Lensnel by Douglas J. Ogurek

Lensnel
by Douglas J. Ogurek

I amaze myself.

A young woman in a lavender dress—an ersatz Myron Peakes design undoubtedly—dances close to me. She’s drawn many eyes, but I’ve drawn more. I could make her irresistible. She says something that I can’t hear. So I just smile. She knows who I am.

I roll up my sleeves and expose my Nubist. I’m on. Nario Meers wore a Nubist on the cover of Time. This one’s probably a ten thousand dollar watch. Tomorrow, Pat Lauderman will admire it. He wears one. It’s all falling into place: when he sees this, I’m that much closer to the commission for the Stroker Center. I got that.

I get close to a circle of dancing young women whose combined IQ is probably a quarter of mine. Close enough for one of them to smell my Lensnel. She gives her cohorts an odd look. Amusing. In ten years, she’ll be morbidly obese and spend her days playing with her offspring and cooking for her football-watching fat husband. She’s probably too sophomoric to recognize that I’m wearing one of the most exclusive colognes. Perhaps one of her friends will tell her. Then her attitude toward me will shift. No matter what women claim, their biological makeup drives them toward two things: wealth, and status. It has to do with rearing offspring.

Crystal dances up to me. “You didn’t give it back?”

I touch her nose. There’s an address on the watch’s back: Caligo Avenue in Atrisworth. I live in Foglio Centre, and I’m thirty-two years old. Did the person who bestowed on me this watch have an address like that at thirty-two? Doubtful. I’m on.

Faux Peakes dress smiles at me. They should name a cologne after me. Call it “Context.” That would be a genuine designer fragrance.

Ken Cleary dances spasmodically with his Owls suspenders. Foolish. Not a lot going on upstairs for him. How can you watch a team that pays millions to a guy who electrocuted dogs?

I saw a loose pit bull the other day. Huge, white. Just walking down the road. Bigger than Damsel. Irresponsible owners, probably some minority. I was on the way to the dedication of the Lambeck Prairie station. Ken’s project. Uninspiring.

Ken takes off his glasses, spins them, and then drops them. Here’s a guy who puts in eighty-hour weeks for a train station project. A rehabilitation that he talks about incessantly. Then he doesn’t show for the dedication? He probably had trouble with that antiquated thing he drives. Or maybe something about his offspring. They were sick. They had a play. The typical offspring excuse.

Faux Peakes dances with a fellow. His watch looks like he got it from a cereal box. There’s a billboard on the expressway. It shows Chicago symphony director Asher Umbra wearing a Nubist. And it simply says, “Clever.” This guy probably doesn’t even know who Umbra is.

Crystal’s back. “Come on S. Dancing’s good for you.”

“Fawscinating. Fawscinating.”

“You just gonna stand here? Or are you gonna dance?”

There’s Dossy, with Rater. Glossy Dossy. Probably ripping on my design for the Belcrown building. Perhaps he should sketch out his ideas on his glossy bald head.

Faux Peakes dances close to Cereal Box Watch. Fuck context. I am context.

And there’s Jilly. Jilly Frilly. The glorious sophomoric bride definitely knows who I am. The Belcrown building that I’m designing isn’t a headquarters, but it should be. I’m on.

&&&

A woman—one of her arms was deformed—struggled with the lever of a water pump. A girl crouched by the spout, and used a butterfly net’s handle to poke at a spider web amid tall vegetation.

Another woman blinked hard behind purple-tinted sunglasses and nibbled a metal spike that protruded beneath her bottom lip. She raised a bandaged wrist. “Sorry Vy. I got this silly thing. If I didn’t have this silly thing, I’d turn around and help.”

“It’s mine. This isn’t that big a . . .” The lever squeaked as Vy, grunting, began to move it. After several strained pumps, water slapped against cement.

The girl held a bottle beneath the spout. “Mommy, I’ll finish it all this time.”

Vy stopped pumping. “You get three points for that.”

The woman with the purple glasses put her hands in her pockets. “Next time we’ll pump it together. Get that water out faster. We can do that, Vy. Huh?”

Vy put on a backpack. The threesome picked up a trail that wound through a prairie.

The girl took the water bottle and the net, then ran ahead, toward a shimmering cluster of birches.

Vy made a “ffft ffft” sound and pretended to spray something in the other woman’s face. “No no. It’s when he talks, Dial. That’s the three-pointer.”

Dial pulled up her left sleeve, revealing a tattoo of an ornately framed mirror on her flabby arm. “I guess. That long speech? It’s not really . . .”

“That’s the big thing. Galt talks for about seventy pages. About his philosophy.”

A biker approached and Dial blinked repeatedly. “That’s a pretty big philosophy.” She put her hand on Vy’s back and chortled as the biker passed.

“It’s like Rand is saying, ‘This is big. It’s so big that I’m just gonna talk here.’”

“It’s not like, dramatic.”

“Ding ding ding. Everybody wants action action action. But she’s saying, ‘I’m taking another path. I’m just going to talk. You don’t like it? Then you don’t belong.’”

“I guess.”

“Have another.” Vy used her good arm to pull Dial’s sleeve over the tattoo. “That’s what this experiment is. It’s big. Galt’s got that motto: ‘I swear by my life and my love of it . . .’”

“He got it partly right. That’s what Val said.”

“Three-pointer for Dial. Shots for everyone.”

Ahead, the girl poured water over an anthill beside the path, and the birch leaves above her flickered silver and black.

Dial pretended to play guitar. “I could teach Hunter to play.”

Vy viewed a digital device. “‘I don’t want any handouts.’ That’s what Rand’s saying.”

“Turn around and teach her scales, chords. That kind of thing.”

“‘I can earn my keep.’”

Dial adjusted her bandage and winced. “Ow ow ow.”

The birch leaves hissed, and Hunter searched the prairie grasses beside the path.

Vy used her good hand to tap the device. “Look at this here. GPS. Hunter’s always on here.”

“If you want, you could turn around and put me on there. If you want.”

“This thing’s important for the experiment.”

On an upper branch of one birch was a green and brown smudge.

A man wearing a basketball jersey jogged by the women. Vy adjusted her backpack. “People use people. They use people to get what they want.”

“The thing about John Galt, he’s almost there, right?”

Vy pretended to hold up a glass. “Ding ding ding. Almost. That’s why we had you plant the watch on that trail.”

The source of the smudge was an avocado, thrown by a young man who lived on the other side of the trees. His father discovered avocados were deadly to parrots, then placed one in the young man’s birdcage.

&&&

The bar at Brume makes this one look squalid. I’m sure these beer slugs love it. Probably construction workers. They should let me cut; they’re used to just standing around.

I met Pat Lauderman at Brume. Immediately he recognized my Lensnel. We enjoyed glasses of Furvus and the company of attractive women trolling for a provider for their future offspring. I discovered that Pat’s a board member at Tempest. And Tempest is funding the Stroker Center. I’m on.

There’s Jilly Frilly, throwing her garter. Glossy Dossy catches it, slides it over his arm, and then cavorts with the other bachelors in a monumentally foolish display of male bravado. Let Glossy Dossy try on her garter. I’ve tried on her.

The odds are heavily against this bar having Furvus. Nario Meers drinks Furvus.

Crystal gets in line behind me. She introduces the bridesmaid with her as Amanda. The beer slugs gape at this Amanda. Perhaps she’d accessorize me better than Faux Peakes.

“I’m at sharp remove from the quotidian.” I pluck a petal from Amanda’s corsage. The Time story mentioned that at one event, Meers ate a centerpiece flower. “Why are architects often portrayed as villains?”

“Is this a joke?” Amanda’s pupils are dilated. Others have told her about me.

“Of course not. In films and television shows.” I lean closer. If she has any discernment whatsoever, she’ll detect my Lensnel. I say, “Why are architects often villains?”

Amanda leans closer. Another sign of her admiration. “Are you a villain?”

I eat the petal. “Maybe there’s something there.”

Crystal moves her arm like a windshield wiper. “Howard Roark. He wasn’t a villain.”

Amanda doesn’t recognize Roark; I can rule out literary scholar. I cover my mouth and my Nubist gleams. “Our literary critic has shown me up.” I get close to Amanda. “But I think I could have taught that Howard Roark something.”

She smiles and flounces her hair. She’s seen my work.

Richard Strablur wears a Nubist. He’s often referred to as a genius. In one interview, he declared himself “at sharp remove from the quotidian.” Pat Lauderman admires Strablur.

Crystal points out Ken Cleary. “This is good for him. He needs this.” Ken dances with his morbidly obese wife as if one of his model trains is in his pants.

“Maybe he should have a sledgehammer.”

Crystal tells Amanda about Ken’s beloved Owls and their quarterback Victor Thomas, who was responsible for a dogfighting ring. I add, “Thomas and his cohorts would use a sledgehammer to beat defeated dogs to death. How merciful.”

Crystal defends Thomas. “But he stopped, S.”

“St. Victor, patron saint of mercy, stopped because he got caught, dear.”

“He’s going around talking to kids about it. About his mistake.”

Now Ken’s dancing with Jilly Frilly. After she and I hooked up, Jilly wanted to spend the day with me. She put on these floppy sweats and left off the makeup, but if I wanted to portray that kind of image, I’d get married myself.

I often wonder why Crystal doesn’t ever wear makeup. I crouch, do the patented Ken Cleary squeak, and then do my best impersonation. “The Owls, they’re gonna take it through the thing there and win, ya see?”

Crystal clicks her tongue. She tells Amanda that Ken needs this, that he worked eighty hours last week.

Amanda looks at my wrist. The Nubist is tapping into her biological instincts. “And did you work eighty hours last week?”

I’m about to say something clever, when one of the beer slugs howls. Maybe someday he’ll pour concrete for one of my buildings. The Stroker Center perhaps.

I allow Crystal to answer for me. “S only works 35-hour weeks.”

“That’s how they get to keep me.” The beer slugs are checking football scores on a tablet. “What self-deception allows people to endorse a guy who had a rape stand for his dogs?”

Crystal pretends to sweep. “The same guy who’s going and talking to kids to tell them not to fight dogs?”

I discover that Amanda is a public school teacher. “So you’re already in my employ?” She likes that. What women care about, whether or not they realize it, are money and power. It’s biological.

I ask Amanda if she lives close. You have to be cautious with that.

“Maybe I shouldn’t give that info to a villain.”

“My lair happens to be at Foglio Centre.”

No sign of recognition. Something tells me that Time magazine isn’t going to profile her achievements anytime soon. Surely she’d recognize Caligo Avenue on the back of my Nubist.

The beer slugs get their beer, then go. The bartendress has a certain suburban beauty. I test the (dirty) waters. “I’ll have a cheeseburger and a large fry.” She doesn’t laugh. So she’s not the type who’s attracted to intelligence and wit.

I pull Amanda next to me, then try Suburbara again. “What about Furvus? Do you have Furvus gin? Furvus. I believe that’s Latin for ‘villain.’”

Amanda throws back her head and laughs. I’m on.

Suburbara isn’t entertained. “Just Taylor’s. It’s good. It’s got these different berries and botanicals they use to make it.”

“Fawscinating, fawscinating. And did you pick that up at the local grocery store after dropping off Timmy at soccer practice?”

Amanda smacks my arm, but she likes it. I’m sure she’s seen my work. I take a sip of the menial gin, and then try Suburbara. “My friend, you need better botanicals.” Clever.

“Well I don’t got anything else.”

I wink at Amanda. “Perhaps I should have worn a blue collar this evening.” If I were to bring Amanda to the next MST Design Awards dinner, what would I have her wear?

Crystal wipes her invisible windshield. “I can’t believe Ken didn’t show up for that dedication. I thought an earthquake couldn’t stop him.”

I mock surprise. “Crystal. Are you making a comment about Ken’s wife?”

Ken, still dancing, spins one of his wife’s shoes, then drops it.

I touch Amanda’s nose. “The priest who was dedicating the station, Amanda, came up to me, Amanda, and said, ‘Where’s Ken?’ So I said, ‘Goddammit, Father. I don’t know where Ken is. I mean, Jesus Christ, Father. He was the lead architect for this project.’”

Before Amanda can react, a guy wraps his arm around her. He has the look of a movie star. Chris Farley. “What’s up what’s up?” His cologne smells like he obtained it from a gumball machine.

Amanda introduces him—it seems like there’s some hesitation—as her “friend.” I extend my glass. “Have you tried the Taylor’s?” Salacious.

Amanda leaves with Gumball, but not before she gives me a conspiratorial look. I amaze myself.

Crystal and I watch Ken and his wife cheapen the dance floor. “I bet it was his shitty car,” I say. “That’s why he didn’t make it.” Ken’s choice of car corresponds to his choice of spouse. Studies reveal that the motor of a Maserati actually causes a physical reaction in women. Ken does not drive a Maserati.

She ignores me. “You haven’t given back that watch?”

Maybe Crystal’s refusal to wear makeup stems from some inferiority complex. “I think it was drawn to me.” I found the Nubist while jogging on the Cloudera Summit Trail. At Brume, Pat Lauderman told me he jogs that trail, and that Povs are his preferred footwear. So the next time he ran, guess who he ran into. And guess what the person he ran into was wearing. “Did I tell you I purchased a pair of Povs?” I ask Crystal. “They’re two-fifty apiece, but the quality . . .”

“Did you know that Povs endorse Victor Thomas?”

I tell her Asher Umbra wears a Nubist and reference the “clever” billboards.

“You mean the guy wearing the fur? Yeah I’ve seen those. Not impressed.”

I hoist a cracker topped with foie gras. “Sometimes, Crystal, we have to make sacrifices to achieve a greater good. Namely, the Stroker Center.” I pull her close to me. “Take it in. Lensnel.”

She nudges me. “Lensnel tests on animals.”

I brush her hair—it could use hydrating shampoo and deep conditioning treatments—off her cheek and use my hands to frame her face. “Another necessary sacrifice.”

Amanda has returned, without Gumball. I’m on. I ask her if she has any pets and it works: she asks me the same.

“Why, yes. I have a pit bull. Her name is Damsel.”

“That’s an interesting name.”

“She was in distress.” Amanda doesn’t get it.

I’m about to explain that Damsel is a rescue, but Crystal butts in. She says that Ken Cleary visits homeless animals every week. Ken’s cavorting deliriously and fooling around with those sophomoric Owls suspenders again. Perhaps for his wife, it’s the hiss of a steam engine that serves as an aphrodisiac.

Amanda wants to know why I just stood on the dance floor. “I’m a minimalist.”

“Doesn’t dancing require movement?”

I take Amanda’s hand—she likes it—then extend her pointing finger toward Glossy Dossy, whose bald head reflects the dance floor lights. “Perhaps I should take a page from his book?” I assume that Amanda knows what a book is.

She leans back to laugh and her head rests on my shoulder. Unless her menial perfume is too strong, the Lensnel is working its alchemy on her biological yearnings.

Crystal’s stuck on virtue. “You know how they make fois gras, don’t you?”

“Crystal!” Her skin could also use some moisturizer. I put my hands on Amanda’s ears, and my Nubist glows. “Superior design has a cost. Those geese suffer for the greater good of design.”

Crystal comes close to me and whispers, “You need to return that watch.” I wonder why she doesn’t react to the Lensnel like other women. Perhaps she has some olfactory shortcoming.

Rater is on the dance floor with his wife. He needs to see the Nubist. “Sorry, Crystal, but you’ll have to keep your fantasies to yourself.” I wink at Amanda.

Before Amanda goes, she gives me her number. She’s seen my work. I can tell. I assume that I’ll get an award for the Belcrown building. If I gifted get her with the opportunity to accompany me to the MST Design Awards, how would it impact my reputation within the industry?

&&&

An older couple with cameras approached Hunter, who used her net to smack cattails.
Farther back on the trail, Dial moved to Vy’s non-disabled side. “I could turn around and help her decorate it.”

Vy pretended to slam shut a door. “Wham.”

“We could paint it all nice. That kind of thing. Is that silly?”

“Wham wham wham.”

Dial laughed loudly as a jogger passed.

Ahead of them sounded the chirps, familiar and cheery, of a cardinal.

Vy mimicked a basketball shot with her good arm. “Three points for this one, Dial: why would I get her a remote control car?”

“Somethin’ to do, kind of thing?”

“Ehhh. Try again.”

Dial scratched her arm, then lifted her sleeve, exposing her mirror tattoo. “Somethin’ to decorate? Make it all nice kind of thing?”

“Ehhh.” Vy slashed out her arms in a “no score” gesture.

Dial touched the bandage on her wrist and sucked in air.

The chirping, its source beyond a tree-bordered pond, persisted. Hunter twirled a purple flower as she and the older couple walked toward Vy and Dial.

Vy hefted her backpack, then checked her GPS. “This is a big deal, Dial. I didn’t get her that to decorate it. And I didn’t get it for her to compete with those neighbor boys with their cars. No, no. She’s got one goal, which is?” Vy held up an invisible glass and raised her eyebrows.

Dial shouldered sweat from her forehead and pretended to play guitar.

“Splash.” Vy mimed throwing a drink in Dial’s face. “To beat her personal best. A to B, A to B. Come on. This is big.”

Dial held her wrist to her chest and winced. “This silly thing.”

“I want her to figure out how to get the thing from point A to point B. As fast as possible. Get it going.”

“This thing really hurts.”

“How the car looks? Decoration and all that? That doesn’t matter. What matters is speed. Beating her own best time.”

“You turn around and help her with that?”

“Sure, but I pass the ball; she scores the points.”

“You mean basketball? You were good at basketball, right?”

Vy pulled Dial’s sleeve over the tattoo. “The only person she has to compete with is herself. Personal best, personal best. That’s the only best that counts.”

“I heard that at a JGG meeting.”

“Ding ding ding. Val said that.”

Hunter cupped her hands around the flower. The man studied the surrounding vegetation, while the woman moved a towel in a circular motion. “You give people flowers to show you care.”

“Looks like Hunter’s made some friends.” Dial used her bandaged hand to take Vy’s non-disabled hand.

“She’s cutting through the crap with that car.” Vy pulled her hand away, then swatted at something. “It’s a big, big deal.”

“Ow ow ow.” Dial cringed and cradled her wrist.

Hunter arrived with the couple in tow. She raised the flower to Vy. “Look, it’s purple, just like Dial’s purple glasses. Right Mommy?”

“Not quite.” Vy took the flower. “Now did we come here to pick flowers, Tie Breaker?”

The woman toweled the man’s camera lens. “She’s quite the socialite. She’s your daughter? Cute.”

“We don’t get into cute.”

The man looked through binoculars. “Where’s the yellow-headed blackbirds? They’re supposed to be here. You ladies seen any yellow-headed blackbirds around?”

Dial put her hands in her pockets and stood behind Vy so that their bodies touched.

“You don’t see them often, the yellow-headed blackbirds? But they’re here. It looks like they’re wearing gas mask things.”

“He’s nuts.” The woman slapped his arm, then addressed Vy. “I told your daughter, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to collect flowers?’”

Dial put her arms around Vy, who twisted the stem and said, “She’s got other hobbies.”

The man’s voice sobered. “I think I saw one. Over there. Let’s go, lady.” He guided the woman, still smiling, away.

When the couple was gone, Vy plucked petals. “Three-pointer for us on that one.”

Hunter picked at her net. “That lady said I could collect some flowers.”

Vy’s disfigured hand closed around the flower and the cardinal’s song, louder, contrasted with the brackish water over which it celebrated. “Is that why we came here, Tie Breaker?”

“But I can’t find any butterflies.”

“I know they’re out there.”

“I didn’t last time.”

“You can, you can, if you keep trying.” Vy discarded the shredded flower. “Keep looking.”

“Will I get three points?”

“On your right.” A passing jogger checked his device.

From her backpack Vy retrieved a spray bottle filled with a cloudy liquid. “This is big, Tie Breaker. You find a butterfly, you get four points.”

“Four four four,” sang Hunter. “I’ll get four.” She resumed her search.

Dial nibbled the spike beneath her lower lip. “I’d turn around and help you. Get that car to go faster. If I was good at that.”

Vy watched the jogger and pretended to shoot a basketball. “We need to talk about that watch.”

“I don’t have any talents, really.”

“This isn’t high school, Dial. You make it sound like you’re in a high school TV show.”

Dial squinted and sweat dropped from her forehead. “Can we get something to eat now?”

The jogger exited the trail, then continued toward a parking lot. Vy shook her spray bottle. “Let’s keep it going. Come on. One more. One more time around.”

“That’s like 45 more minutes. This air’s getting at my wrist, I think. It aches.”

Vy clutched Dial’s elbow and walked faster. “Let’s get it going.”

“I guess.”

Minutes later, Hunter knelt beside the pond, and the cardinal’s call sprinkled down on her.

Farther back, Vy, holding the spray bottle between her deformed arm and her chest, took a roll of black electrical tape from her backpack. “Like that couple back there. You saw him. People like to categorize, make things simple.”

Dial picked up a blade of crabgrass.

“The average female is this and this and this.”

Dial placed the blade between her thumbs. “I used to be able to turn around and . . .”

“Submissive, you know. Chatty, vulnerable.” Vy wrapped the electrical tape around the bottle. “Dependent and submissive.”

“My mom? The thing about her, she was submissive.” Dial brought the blade to her mouth, then exhaled. It whistled weakly.

Vy pushed down Dial’s hands. “And so they look at us, and they don’t get it. We don’t fit the mold.”

“You got anything in that bag? Like granola bars or something?”

“Listen. This is big. We shake up their perception.”

Hunter threw a rock. It splashed next to a log on which sat three turtles. “This time I’ll get two.”

As the cardinal persisted above Hunter, something snipped through the trees, then cracked against the trunk.

Two teens holding hands passed Dial and Vy, who bit off the tape that now covered the bottle. She aimed it at Dial.

Dial clapped, then extended her arms. “Hey spray me.”

“What would John Galt do if he found a Nubist? Something valuable like that, just lying there. Would he take it?”

Dial blinked hard. “I guess. Spray me.”

“Ehhh. Think. Galt Galt Galt. Would he give it back?”

“We’re not submissive.”

“Come on Dial. Have another. He’d walk right by it.” Vy sprayed a cluster of daisies. “But we’re taking it to the next level. This is big. The Joan Galt level. That’s why you planted the watch on the trail.”

“But why does it have the GPS?”

“Experiment. We want to watch the person who finds it, see what he does with it.”

“Hey spray me. Spray me.”

“Not a good idea. This is vegetation killer.”

The cardinal stopped mid-chirp, then tumbled out of the tree. Twenty feet from where it landed, two boys with slingshots high-fived each other.

&&&

They’re playing a violin concerto here in the foyer. I got it: Vivaldi’s “Winter.” I’m on.

Rater’s talking to a blond sycophant. They’re by a vilely ostentatious fountain. Surprising that Glossy Dossy’s not over there licking Rater’s balls and talking about how my design for Belcrown could have had “a few more flourishes.” Fuck flourishes.

“S, S, you ever had a black cow?” Ken Cleary—his hair looks like one of his cats styled it after a catnip binge—uses a thumb to push out his Owls suspenders.

“My palate leans toward white foxes.” I amaze myself.

He releases his obnoxious squeak. He doesn’t get my witticism, but what do you expect from a guy who brings a cat litter container to work instead of a satchel?

Cleary holds up a glass filled with something vile. I suppose it works contextually with the foyer. “They got an ice cream machine through the thing there. Ya see? By the dessert bar?”

“Fawscinating. Fawscinating.”

“You just grab a Coke or something at the bar . . .” While Cleary monologues about the duller points of making a black cow, Faux Peakes dress chats with a cadre of like-small-minded fortune hunters. If I brought Faux Peakes to the MST Design Awards dinner, I’d have to package her in a much more sophisticated dress. Who would make a better member of my entourage? Faux Peakes, or Amanda? Or what about Crystal?

Cleary leans way back—his stomach sticks out and ketchup stains his shirt—then shakes some of that float into his mouth. I look at my Nubist. Superb. But he misses the clue. “You see the Owls game?”

“Too busy plotting my revenge on Victor Thomas. Who’s Rater talking to?”

“Oh, Thomas, T-Thomas. Yeah-ha.” Cleary ignores my query, and launches into a staggeringly unamusing recap of the Owls game and the performance of the team’s dog-torturing superstar.

I’ll bet Rater hasn’t seen “Winter” performed at the CSO, as conducted by Asher Umbra. And Crystal, she had to point out Umbra’s fur predicament. She doesn’t understand that Umbra, like me, sometimes has to appeal to those who support his work. And sometimes the sophisticated have exotic tastes. How would Crystal serve as entourage?

Cleary snaps his suspenders. “That’s the thing about it, right? The running back’s running all around all over. Shifting. Hey, look at me, prancing around. But the fullback’s just . . . boom! Through the thing there boom. Yeah-ha.”

“An astute observation.”

“It’s like life. It’s a good analogous or metaphoric whatever. That’s the thing.”

“My friend, it needs work.”

Rater twirls his finger and the sycophant laughs. My intuition tells me he probably can’t even identify this composer.

Cleary stirs his black cow abomination, and tells me he just added a model of Clenshaw Stadium, the Owls’ monument to mediocrity, to his model train set. Here’s a facility that he didn’t even design, and he’s enamored with it.

A new song comes on. I recognize it, but who’s the composer? “When you think about it, the owl doesn’t seem that robust a mascot. Especially for a football team.”

He squeaks. It sounds like glass getting cleaned. “They can see good at night.” Then he transitions into a toweringly inconsequential pontification about the smell of the artificial grass that he uses on the dream world that his model train passes through.

Glossy Dossy winks at me, then joins Rater and the sycophant. Where did Dossy get his watch? Did he win it at a carnival game?

“You think something smells better than that? No way.” Cleary crouches and holds his hands like claws. “I’ll wrestle ya for it.”

“Wrestling?” Who knows what he’s talking about. “I’ve always had a penchant for the luge.”

Faux Peakes and her greed of fortune hunters troll the foyer. They’ve tightened their thirty-dollar dresses and tweaked their makeup to full future offspring production value. I got that.

Cleary uses a napkin to wipe the glop that has accumulated on the sides of his glass, and clunks his way through a monologue about the model of the Lambeck Prairie station that he added to his train set.

Dossy’s still over there, his frumpy body jiggling as he laughs with Rater and the sycophant. If I can use Lauderman’s influence to get that commission, I’ll be using Dossy’s big bald head as a projection screen for my presentations about the Stroker Center. Rater needs to see my Nubist.

“I even got the stone arches and the copper through the thing–” Cleary nearly drops his glass.

“Fawscinating.”

“It’s Romanesque, you know? That Lambeck Prairie station?”

Chic. I wonder if the station houses a vomitorium for those who have to endure its decorative flourishes. “Speaking of Lambeck Prairie, there was a priest at the dedication asking about you. So I said, ‘Jesus Christ, Father. I don’t know where that goddam guy is.’”

“I got distracted.” He doesn’t laugh. Typical primeval sense of humor. I suppose a fart would have him in stitches.

The fortune hunters approach. I extend my hand and expose my Nubist. “Pardon me, is there a modeling convention that I neglected to attend?” Clever.

Their faces reveal all the understanding of a flock of parrots. Faux Peakes even rolls her eyes. “Oh my God. You were the one just standing on the dance floor.”

Genuine backwoods harlots. Their perfume, likely named after some talentless starlet, probably prohibits them from detecting my Lensnel. And even if they could, they wouldn’t recognize it; their ersatz department stores don’t carry Lensnel.

I retort. “I passed a carnival on the way here. Perhaps you ladies can stop by and flirt with the beer-guzzling miscreants operating the rides.”

They offer a few uninventive words that underscore their menial station in life. Then one of the harlots points at Dossy. “That’s amazing.” He’s balancing a tablet on his head. My life is complete.

The fortune hunters skulk away.

Cleary squeaks and twists his suspenders. “You gonna try one a them black cows?”

“So why weren’t you at the dedication, Ken? Did you have a sick offspring? Or did your luxury ride conk out?”

“I was on my way, but there was this huge dog through the thing there. Big white guy. I wanted to give it a hand. He’s big and strong like Damsel. How’s Damsel?”

“Fine she’s fine. What about that dog?”

“Gentlemen.” Dossy, the tablet still on his head, stands before us. “Ken, Sammy. How goes it?”

“At sharp remove from quotidian.”

Dossy waves at Rater and the sycophant. They’re laughing. It’s like he didn’t even hear my clever remark. “Ken boy, you see that game? Woo!”

Before Cleary can launch into another monologue, I tell Dossy that I saw it, and found it to be life-affirming, soul-scouring.

Cleary smacks his suspenders. “Hey Dossy, you like black cows? You can make a black cow through the thing there.”

I halt Cleary’s train wreck. “It’s so fawscinating.” Then I tell Dossy that he missed “Winter.”

Dossy turns his head carefully, then his fat finger points to the entry. “Au contraire, Sammy boy. The evidence points to it being summer.”

“I mean Vivaldi’s ‘Winter.’”

“Oh, you mean that fine musical selection? Actually, that was ‘Fall.’” He points up. “But I prefer this: Chopin’s ‘Waterfall’ étude. Woo!”

I graduated third out of 572. Did he graduate third out of 572? Doubtful.

He waddles—that’s what fat guys do—to the greed of fortune hunters, who are enchanted by his sophomoric balancing act. They likely think that Brume is something that they’ll use to clean their floors while their fat, blue collar husbands recover from drinking binges.

Cleary tries to return to his model trains.

“But the dog. What did you do with the dog by the station?”

“Took him home.”

“What? To keep?”

“That’s the thing. Yeah, if I can’t find him a good home.”

Dossy stands on one foot and the fortune hunters laugh and clap. He probably doesn’t even know what a Pov shoe is. He is to me what cave art is to Nario Meers. “With the Owls, and with what Victor Thomas did, don’t you ever feel like a hypocrite?”

“Thomas is out there. He’s talking to kids, ya see? Telling them what he did was wrong.”

“And I’m sure that Thomas cries himself to sleep every night because of his overwhelming guilt.” I’ve just reached the peak of Mt. Cleverest.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s sorry, right? What counts is that he’s out there, right?” Cleary stretches his suspenders. “God’s got a funny way of showing Himself.”

Perhaps I’ll return the Nubist. Maybe the owner is a potential client.

&&&

An oily odor intruded the path where Hunter, hair stuck to her forehead, peered into vegetation. “Four, four, four.”

Vy mock-sprayed the vegetation killer in Dial’s face. “Ehhh. Think think think.”

“Huh? But I could turn around and help her.”

“Let’s get it going.” Vy’s disfigured arm held the bottle to her chest. She twisted its nozzle. “The watch.”

“Nubist. That’s expensive.”

“Ding ding ding. Keep it going. Why did we plant the Nubist?”

Dial cleared her throat. “You smell that? That smells . . .”

The odor, intricate and charismatic, dominated the trail. Hunter stood on tiptoe and parted the grasses.

Vy struggled to hook the spray bottle to her backpack.

Dial squeezed shut her eyes and played air guitar. “They got that car thing. The Scouts? Some derby car kinda thing.”

Vy dropped the bottle, then snatched it up.

“I could come over and we would help her. Together. I guess.” Dial took off her sunglasses. “It’s silly, but it smells kinda like a new basketball a little.”

Vy emptied the bottle on wildflowers. “Dial, Dial. She’s done with Cub Scouts. Done.”

Hunter stepped into the vegetation.

Dial went to put her glasses in the backpack, but Vy twisted away, and the backpack brushed against Dial’s bandaged wrist. “I gave those to you, Dial.”

“Ow ow ow you got my wrist.”

“Don’t you want to wear those?”

“Sun’s not so bad no more.”

“They’re purple. You love purple.” Vy touched Dial’s arm. “And they look so nice on you.”

Dial pushed out her bottom lip and the spike gleamed.

“It’s blacktop, Dial. The smell.”

Hunter hopped. “Mommy I see one. I see a butterfly.”

Vy set her backpack on the trail. “That’s a big big deal, Tie Breaker.”

“Four points if I catch it?”

“Ding ding ding. Just don’t damage its wings.” Vy opened her backpack. “Now come on Dial. Why did I take her out of Cub Scouts?”

Dial rested the glasses on her head, then rubbed her wrist. “The Scouts turned around and helped my mom. For this badge thing? Service badge.”

“Service. Have another, Dial. People doing favors for other people? Service. It’s still selfish. Every action is selfish. Self-serving.”

“My mom? She was sick. A lot.”

“Everyone wants handouts.” Vy pretended to slam shut a door. “I don’t want any handouts.”

Hunter slashed down the net. “I almost got it.”

Dial pulled up her sleeve and exposed her tattoo. “Dad did blacktop. Once I went with him to help. Then Mom called. Sick. I had to turn around and go home and help her.”

Vy yanked down Dial’s sleeve. “Stop. Stop. Personal best. Mine. My best.”

Dial squeezed shut her eyes. “Personal best is the only best that counts.”

“Right. This is a big, big deal, Dial.” Vy took Dial’s hand. “We welcomed you, and now we’re asking you to do something. To show your loyalty to our philosophy.”

A monarch butterfly struggled in Hunter’s netting. “I got it, Mommy.”

“That’s a four-pointer, Tie Breaker.” Vy removed a jar from her backpack. “You look at the victims of serial killers. Dial. The victims all have something in common. A physical trait, some behavior. But with that watch—this is huge—it’s random.”

“It’s on your GPS?”

Vy nodded and coated a cotton ball with nail polish remover, then dropped the ball in the jar. “He’s an architect. He’s been wearing it around.” She held the open jar toward Hunter. “Here Tie Breaker. Just drop it here.”

Hunter peeked between her clasped hands. “I don’t want to hurt it.”

“You’re just putting it to sleep. Now let’s get it going.”

Hunter obeyed.

“The enemy is all these people who talk about this social outreach.” Vy handed Dial the GPS. “He’s home now. At Foglio Centre. Apartments in the city. We’ll see what he does.”

The glass chimed as the butterfly crashed frenziedly against it. Dial cradled her wrist and studied the device. “When you help, you turn around and make it worse.”

“Ding ding ding. Three points, Dial. You give to the poor and helpless just enough to survive? Then you create another generation of poor and helpless.”

Dial sniffed and lowered the glasses over her eyes. “So we just wait to see if the architect keeps it. Then we get him.”

The butterfly dropped to the bottom of the jar, and then, as the smells of blacktop and nail polish remover congealed, moved its wings lingeringly.

Vy exhaled on the jar, then studied the clouded glass. “No, Dial. There’s that address on the watch. We just wait to see if he returns it. Then we get him.”

Beyond the trees that bordered the path shone a freshly blacktopped driveway. On the porch near it, a woman shuttered, and a man with black-splotched boots spit beer in her face.

* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Douglas J. Ogurek 2017

About the Author: Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonym for a writer living somewhere on Earth. Though banned on Mars, his fiction appears in over forty Earth publications. Ogurek founded the controversial literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g., extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a positive message. He guest-edited Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #58: UNSPLATTERPUNK!, the first ever unsplatterpunk anthology. He reviews films at that same magazine. Recent longer works include the young adult novel Branch Turner vs the Currants (World Castle Publishing) and the horror/suspense novella Encounter at an Abandoned Church (Scarlet Leaf Publishing). More at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com. Twitter: @unsplatter

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