Dynamic Tension

by zara hemla :: x-files :: r :: story 6 in the "mercy" series. my take on krycek the mercenary.



Now with 35% less commas! Thanks to NFF, my beta, and her One Big Suggestion. I wonder if the Bathroom of Evil has these little geese stenciled in blue on a cream-colored background....

This one is for Barbie Joe. Because she stuck up for me in a certain restaurant. Because of three feet of Krycek ass. Because I love her cute, blond, bad self.





I lie awake and listen. Alex's voice slides through the wall. He is in a good mood. He is being funny. He is speaking on the telephone. I only hear his side of the conversation.

"I tell ya, Jo--"

"Shut the hell up. No one knows I'm living here. We moved places six times in the last couple months. There aren't any bugs here."

"Yeah, but there *aren't.*"

"Why not? I know this is hard for you to understand, Miss Self-Reliance, but sometimes it's beneficial to have a good roommate. I mean hell, he picks up, he cleans, he assassinates -- "

"Girl, he wouldn't do that for a million bucks. Boy thinks he's skinny. Doesn't like his chest."

"Okay, okay, but I tell you, no one is listening."

A long, slippery laugh. "You kill me. You really do. " Then his voice drops again. "Just let me get you alone. I'd teach you where to put your mouth."

Lower, lower, dropping his dulcet tones into the bass register.

"Ohhhh...."

Murmurs send me back to sleep.

---------------

"RISE AND FUCKIN SHINE!"

Geeez. I roll over and look at the digital clock: 7:30 pm. I roll back and pull the pillow over my face. "It's too early...."

"Early?" he booms, coming up right behind my ear. "Early? The sun's just gone down."

"Leave me alone."

He begins to kick the bedframe, rocking me toward the wall with every blow. "When. I. Say. Get. Up. I. Mean. Get. The hell. Up!" His good mood from the earlier telephone call has disappeared completely and he wears a deep frown. Educated guess: he's hungry. He always gets sulky and vulgar when he's hungry. So I roll off the bed and head to the bathroom, ignoring him as he kicks the bed into the wall with one booted foot.

I stick my head under the faucet and brush my teeth. It only takes two minutes, but he's pounding on the door halfway through. Geeeez. So I open the door and let him watch me finish brushing my teeth. It mollifies him that I'm not wasting time, and he quiets down.

"We're going out. I'm hungry."

"Mmhmm," I murmur noncommittally.

"So put on something that won't embarrass me."

"Mmhmm."

"Something like jeans. Nothing pink -- nothing with flowers." His frown is back and I let him talk. I don't own clothes with either of those designs, but if it makes him happy, I'll let him talk however he wants.

I breeze past him to my closet and pull out a pair of black jeans and a grey short-sleeved cotton shirt. He grunts approval as I pull them on. As I'm getting socks, he's pulling some shoes out of the closet for me. Docs. Heavy bastards, Docs, but I put 'em on anyway because it's better than another bruise in my shortribs. As I'm lacing I study his own outfit.

It isn't fair how Alex looks good in dark colors. He insists that I wear them too, but as the girls say, it washes me out. Darkness only accentuates his skin, only makes his eyes deeper green. It only brings out his eyelashes and makes them look spiky and thick. (It helps that he wears mascara, but there you are.) The man is much nicer-looking than me. He's got on leather pants, the kind that look poured on. They're dark, dark brown, and you can see all the muscles in his ass when he walks. He's got on a navy-blue tee shirt and a brown leather jacket. His leather jackets are ubiquitous, and he still wears one though it be a hundred degrees outside. Says he's cold. Mmmkay. His hair sticks up in little spikey things, the kind my hair refuses to even contemplate. It looks like he's wearing lip liner, though I don't want to ask. And he's got on those steel-toed boots.

Needless to say, the girls fall all over him. Just fall, drop at his feet, throw themselves at his head. Whatever. Call it what you want. Suffice it to say, Jeffrey Spender and his grey cotton shirt get zip, nada, nothing. Same story, often told.

"Would you lace up your sonofabitch shoes," growls Alex Refined Krycek. So I do. He pushes me out the door and makes sure to lock it. We hail the first taxi that comes by. The driver, a small bald man, looks Alex up and down and offers sotto voce to drive him anywhere he wants to go. For free. Alex smiles, digs out a bill from his pants pocket, and hands it to the driver. It's only a dollar bill, but the driver takes it without argument, probably figuring that it was worth it to watch Alex slide anything out of his pants.

---------------

Lately I've slept days and stayed up nights. It seems to fit my murdering lifestyle better. Not that I've murdered anyone lately. On the contrary, I've tried to stay in the house. I'm afraid that someone will pull a gun on me. I'm afraid I will pull a gun on someone. Sometimes I dream about killing people. This taxi ride is the first I've taken in two months.

I don't sleep very well either. All the murder movies I've ever seen start rolling through my head at about 3 pm. Piano wire. Woodchipper. Chainsaw. Scalpel. Rifle. Fire. Razor. Icepick. Pistol. Nylon stocking. Water. Rabid bats. I'm fascinated by how many ways there are to kill.

I tried to tell Alex about it one night when we were talking in the dark, but he blew me off. Alex likes to play like he's all tough, but some things just make him sick. I mentioned spiders that time and he nearly went through the roof.

"You're one sick fuck, Jeffrey! Don't play me like that."

It's possible that he'd have hit me, but it was too dark. "Have you ever been to the Natural History Museum over at the Mall, Alex? They have these huge, bird-eating spiders from, like, Thailand. They're as big as your two fists put together and they rear up and they crawl up your leg, Alex, crawl right up your stomach...."

Then he really did hit me, a pouncing smack that bounced off my ribs.

"Sweet sweet," I said. I slithered to bed, hoping that he had dreams that crept and rubbed on him. But he never mentioned it again. Maybe he got used to the idea. I dunno.

Here in the taxi he brings it up again, like a dog that can't let go of a chewtoy. "Hey Jeffrey, where do you think I could get ahold of one of those spiders?"

I shrug. "Import it from South Asia? How should I know?"

I can see he's only holding his temper because he's in public. "Well you are the one who brought the subject up, Mr. Spender," he says between his teeth. His fingers drum on the taut leather covering his thigh.

"I apologize," I say with all the humility I can muster. "I didn't think. I'm sure if you contacted an exotic pet dealer, they could suggest something for you."

Immediately, his fingers stop. "Good, thanks Jeffrey. Why don't you do some calling tomorrow morning?"

I nod, making a mental note. First nanotechnology, now he wants arachnids. Who can fathom the man's mind?

Razor: single blade. Double blade. Rope: hemp or silk. Household cleaners: Drano, bleach, cleanser, shower spray. Wire: Piano, chicken, barbed.

"The end of the world is coming," hisses Krycek suddenly. "I love thinking of little details."

The taxi driver nods his head to some nonexistent music. Suddenly, I think I can hear it, a light lilt of recorder, a snatch of foreign song.

------

(Two)

"Ah," says Alex, as we pull up to a low building emblazoned with the name "Unicorn." For the first time, he smiles. We get out of the taxi and the driver pulls off slowly, no doubt to get a look at Alex's retreating sashay.

The place sounds like a club, but there is no bouncer, no line, and no group of gaudy pseudogoths smoking out front. Only that sign -- Unicorn -- and a pair of smoked glass doors. I want to ask Alex what's going on, is this some kind of joke, but he's already headed toward the entrance.

"Why can't we just go to Dennys," I mutter, and follow him. "They have that two dollar special and at least it looks friendly." I'm rather afraid of what entertainment Alex has in mind. When he's hungry and cranky, he tends to do stuff that can cause bodily harm. Which is to say, bodily harm if I do it, and bodily harm if I don't, because he tends to beat me bloody if I don't do what he wants.

We push through the doors and into a tiled marble foyer. I'm no judge, but every inch of it says that there's money in the underpinnings and no one's vulgar enough to flash it. As we stand there, a bald man in a shortsleeved dress shirt, bow tie, vest, and jeans comes toward us, enquiring after our names. Alex gives them, and the man consults a list. On closer inspection, the baldness turns out to be complete -- he has no body hair. None. No eyebrows, no arm hair, not even eyelashes.

He ticks off our names and makes a little bow. Motions us toward a hallway where plush carpeting swallows us to the ankles.

"And I thought we were just going to eat," I comment flippantly. Alex doesn't really stop, but he does throw out an elbow, which I manage to dodge.

The hallway opens up into a half-lit restaurant - type room, with round tables and booths. It's half full, and the murmur of conversation reaches us. Female conversation. In fact, outside of two men seated in a booth in the corner, the place is almost exclusively female-populated. Several women turn around to look at us as we step in and someone comes up to seat us.

Here's where it starts to turn weird, like I'm on some kind of hallucinogen. We are escorted to a table by a man attired in black lace-up boots and paint. I fix my eyes to the floor when I realize just how little of him is actually covered. He's in a black g-string thingy, and the rest of him is painted in black and white squares. Now that, I think to myself, is vulgar.

Nothing makes me queasy quite like the sight of a naked man. Even my own body strikes me as ugly. Women have all the beautiful proportion, all the right curves and recesses. The way a woman's ass ticks back and forth in a fluid curve can render me speechless in a second. A naked man is the absolute antithesis of beauty, to me. All angles and flat bits and corners. Bones and ribs and knuckles: they're all too prominent. A man is jagged.

Our table is right in the middle of the room, and I'm getting a really bad feeling about what's about to go down as we are seated by the chess-board. As we sit, I keep my eyes fixed on the table, and that's why I get surprised by the whiskey tones of someone who says to Alex, "Well, Krycek, aren't you gonna introduce your friend?"

I slowly raise my eyes and see the top of the table, then a silver shirt that glitters as it pulls tight against some of those curvy bits I just finished talking about, then a long white neck and dark brown hair and a classical face with these extremely green eyes and a pouty mouth adorned by blood-red lipstick.

She looks straight at me and I feel a familiar jump as my heart speeds into triple time. She has a very calculating look in her eyes, as if wondering just how my intestines would taste, but she is utterly amazing-looking. I've just finished the rhapsody of the Beautiful Woman and here she is sitting exactly four feet away.

"Hi, I'm Marcia," she says, extending a white hand to me. I enfold her perfectly manicured, blood-red nails with my own nailbitten hand.

"Um," I say. She sort of smiles and I release my fingers.

"That's Jeffrey," Alex says in a bored tone. His eyes are fixed on the waiter.

"Krycek, contain yourself please. I have already ordered for you and Jeffrey, and your food will be out in two minutes."

"I've lost my appetite." And he grins and leaves absolutely no room for misinterpretation.

"Mmhmm," she says. Snaps her fingers, and the waiter melts away into oblivion. "Krycek. Krycek. Alex!"

He snaps his attention back to her. Her lips part in another grin, which is even more unstable than the one she gave me. "Don't move. Don't even move your head one fraction of an inch. And be quiet."

And he doesn't. He doesn't move, while I sit there transfixed at the thought of someone who can boss Alex around. She turns her own attention back to me, and even then, Alex sits like a statue, staring at her, barely blinking.

"So what business are you in, Jeffrey," she asks.

"I'm, uh, between jobs." It's the truth.

"I work rather closely with your father," she says. So she knew all along who I was. I only feel a rather dull surprise. Everyone has the jump on me these days.

"I hope he is well," I say politely. Sure, I hope he's well, so that when I come to kill him, he won't give himself a heart attack before I can shoot him in his blasted heart. Shotgun. Rifle. Pistol. Piece. So many words for a gun. I lick my lips and concentrate on her classical face.

"Oh, he's well," she says. "Mulder and Scully have the X-Files again. You did know that, right?" Her olive eyes narrow just the tiniest bit.

"Sure," I say with all the casualness I can muster. I'd hoped. I surely had hoped.

"I saw Scully just the other day, in fact," she says. "She was in that little cramped basement office, and oh my, were they putting that space to use. She had his pants down around his knees and she was hiked up with her legs around his waist and you could hear him moaning all the way to the second floor, Scully, Scully, Scully, -- "

"Shut up!" hisses Alex. "You think that's funny, you bitch, that isn't funny." His face melts with rage and his fist clenches and releases, but he still hasn't moved. She laughs and turns back to him, and I'm horribly relieved, because I'm sure she can see my thoughts reflected in my eyes. And all I can think of now is Scully with her legs around my waist. Something I try not to think about, because she's pretty much a goddess to me, and suddenly I hate Marcia, hate her because she knows all the buttons to push with both Alex and me.

She's laughing now and covering her mouth with her hand delicately. "Oh I'm sorry, Krycek, was there something in that you didn't like? I'm sure you've seen it on the surveillance tapes a hundred times."

"They have never done that and you know it," says Alex clearly and coldly.

"Not on your watch, I guess," she says. She purses her blood-red mouth and the waiter is there at warp speed, placing down plates and silverware. A steak reclines on Alex's plate; I don't think it had been cooked more than thirty seconds, and it's still oozy enough to moo. Luckily, the waiter lays down a bowl of linguine in front of me. It has little chicken bits and spinach pesto. It smells like butter and garlic and starch. It smells divine.

I bow my head reflexively for a minute and say grace without thinking. I think I want to petition God to maybe get me out of here. Dear God, can I please get some kind of intervention? But not till I finish my linguine. As I look up, I see Marcia's amused gaze resting on me.

"It's so dear to see someone with a little faith these days." Does she never stop smiling?

"Um," I reply. Alex snorts, not moving his jasper eyes from Marcia's exquisite features. He has not touched his food, though it lights a fire in his eyes. I bend my head to my plate, trying not to notice her tapered fingers as she taps them lightly on the table.

Three bites in, a bass line begins to thump to one side of the room, and some of the women begin hooting and hollering. My stomach sinks even further. And sure enough, two men in bell-bottoms and tank shirts with a peace sign come strutting out of either far door. I begin to recognize the song: it's "Brown Sugar."

     I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like, 
     You should have heard me just around midnight.

Ah Brown Sugar how come you taste so good Uh huh Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should.

Over, or maybe under Mick Jagger, I hear Alex begging. He says "please" to Marcie monotonously and regularly. She doesn't appear to be looking at him at all, instead concentrating on the man to her right who is methodically removing his pants. I see anger building in his eyes and feel something dark and hopeless fill me. If she doesn't let him do what he wants, whatever he wants right now, RIGHT NOW, he is going to murder me. He's Cain to my Abel and he murders me whenever it pleases him.

The women cheering have grown much louder now as the song winds to a halt. I have stopped eating, my fingers stilled: I cannot take my eyes from the pair. She seems to have forgotten I'm alive, and he simply moves his mouth, making those noises that could mean nothing or everything. Please please oh please oh please.

Her fingers still on the lacquered tabletop, and she slowly turns her head to look straight into Alex's eyes.

"Are you going to give me your attention now?" she asks like syrup.

"Yesyesyesyes," he begins to chant, till she holds up a hand. He stops immediately. She smiles again, wide and unstable, chasmic.

"Good boy." And she flips her hand toward the food. Instantly and without seeming rancor he begins to shove French fries and meat into his mouth. Another bass line begins to thump. I don't recognize it. But another two men come out, dressed in gold slinky ... things, I don't know what they are, and do something that's rather a cross between interpretive modern dance and Las Vegas classic stripping.



     The shores I seek are crimson tastes divine --
     I can't make myself heard, no matter how hard I
     scream.
     Oh, sensation
     Sin slave of sensation

I watch because it's rather fascinating how they manage to get out of their gold things. They writhe and wriggle lithely, doing wiggly things with their arms and opening their mouths really wide. It kind of makes me laugh a little but the women around me seem enthralled. So this is male stripping, I think half-crazily. They could probably do it on Broadway, but they'd never get paid this much. As they get down to their underwear (spangly red), I stop watching and begin instead to watch Alex.

He's eating, but his eyes when not needed fixate on Marcia. He hasn't even made an effort to watch the gold-wrapped guys. A-fucking-mazing. I mean, this is a side of Alex that I've never seen. I know he played some games with Diana. I know he was slightly contemptuous of her and very slightly afraid of her. But I think that if Diana walked in this club right now and told him to sit through an entire Rolling Stones song before he could eat, and that he couldn't even *look* at the dancers, he'd laugh in her face. I don't think. I know. And yet here he is, eating huge chunks of raw steak, ignoring the music and the men entirely. With no apparent resentment.

I'm rather in awe. I wish I could do that, make him sit statue still, not even creaking leather. It's fascinating.

"You're not watching the dance, Jeffrey," Marcia says over the backbeat.

"It's um, it's not my thing," I manage to stutter.

This time Alex doesn't help me by saying anything deflecting and so she continues to look at me. Then she says suavely, "But it surely is mine. Jeffrey, I have a proposition for you."

Her smile, if possible, gets wider. "If you go up and put on whatever outfit they give you and dance until you're naked to whatever song they want to put on, then I will give you the key to a locker in a college library which contains certain files which you could publish to the press, files that might make you rich, or bring down your father. Or you could give it to Mulder, and maybe he would love you. Or you could give it to Scully, and maybe she would --"

"No." I'm surprised. It's the first clear word I've said all night.

"No?" Her eyebrow goes up the slightest bit, reminding me very clearly of what she thinks I want Scully to do for me.

"No." I look back down at my plate. Not for all the money in the world would I do this for her. I'm at the limits of my power. I have people controlling me every time I turn around. The last thing I need is someone else to beg. Something gives me steel for a backbone and for once I don't make a fool of myself.

"Well, Krycek said you wouldn't be interested. Though if we were alone, I'm sure I could get you to do anything." It's a statement of fact in her velvet voice, something that would be done. I swallow. The chicken seems to be stuck in my throat. Out of nowhere I wonder if I could kill her. She seems indestructible. Pillow. Lighter fluid: swallowed or doused. Rifle. Crossbow. Sword. Stone. When I look up again, she has fixed herself back onto Alex.

"What about you, Alex? Interested?"

-------

(Three)

Lazily, he parts his full pink lips and says yes, of course he is interested, of course he is. And he stands easily, headed toward the back of the room. Leaving me alone with her. With Marcia, whom I know isn't really called Marcia, because when Alex was begging her he was saying please Johnny please Johnny oh please. Marcia, who seems to have dismissed us both and claps enthusiastically as the nude, gold-painted men take their bows. Jagged. Nothing but jagged gold things. She is ore beautiful in silver than any golden man. She has taut muscles underneath her sliding skin. Her mouth is full of sharp white teeth. Without warning, I want her. I am afraid of her.

I fix my eyes back to my plate, reach for my glass. Women's sibilant conversations slip around me. What are they talking about? Do they ever talk about murder? Have they sat in the dark, as I have, and listed exotic weapons to a fascinated roommate? Have they ever slid their hands down their bodies, thinking about death, consumed with need, need for something, something, some thing that won't ever ever ever be resolved?

Something grinds and crackles sharply in front of me. I stare bemusedly at my glass. I have only just registered that it is broken when she takes my hand and splays it out in front of her on the table.

"You've cut yourself," she says. I can't think very well between my own anguish and her soft fingers, so I don't reply. She stares at me for a moment, then back down to my hand. It bleeds sluggishly. Deftly she begins to pick glass out of my palm: four medium-sized pieces, one after another. All I can think is, you could cut someone's throat with that glass. Cut her throat, cut their throats.

She tears up her linen napkin and binds my hand as efficiently as any field doctor. Then she holds my hand, squeezes it to the point of pain, speaks to me.

"Don't think about it," she says. "Not even Krycek can think about it all the time."

I think I'm really dreaming, that this isn't happening. I finally lift my head and train my eyes onto her face. Skid over her high cheekbones and drown in her tidal eyes.

"Alex says that you killed someone two weeks ago and you can't stop talking about it." Odd compassion has lit her from within. She looks like she knows what broken glass means to me.

It's not like I can't stop thinking about it, I think. Not at all. I mean to say this, but what comes out is, "A man in a car. Tried to kill me. I mean, Alex. Alex. I shouldn't shoot people. I know what it's like to be shot."

She blinks once, twice, three times. "Buck up, Jeffrey. Just because you've done it before doesn't mean you'll do it again."

"But I *want* to," I say before I think, my tongue dead like jerked beef. Immediately her eyes brighten and her smile broadens. Her fingers begin to slide, restless spiders, up my forearm. Restless birdeating spiders live in her smile.

"Like that feeling, do you?" Her voice moans like high wind. But it's the wrong thing to say. Because as easy and sliding as the feeling was: no, I didn't like it. I drop my eyes again and see my bandaged hand. Somewhen during the conversation, someone has removed the broken glass from the table. My hand lies like pale dough, whiter than the bandage. Her hands still their motion. She makes a sound that is halfway between exasperation and something deafening.

I didn't like it. I cling to that thought with the energy of someone under an avalanche. I didn't. Didn't. Like it. I didn't cry like Mulder and I didn't laugh like Alex. I lost my train of thought for five hours, but I didn't like it. I don't remember liking it. I don't.

"Jeffrey -- " she says, but the sudden bass begins again and she stops in mid-sentence. Again she seems to forget me as Alex walks out into a clear area between the tables. No cheesy announcer tells the crowd that here is the Man in Black, ready to do his duty for Uncle Sam. Nothing announces him because Alex Krycek announces himself. The only thing he has done to himself is wet his hair so that it looks even darker.

I wonder how many women know that here before them stands a killing machine in leather pants. Maybe they do know. Maybe women can see into your soul. I project myself out there on the stage, ready to start the dance, ready to raise the curtain of mystery that covers my motives. Probably they would laugh, see only an uncertain man with no real ambition to do anything but commit fratricide.

Maybe they want a killing machine. I sneak a sideways look at the silver woman beside me. She is leaning back in her chair, her legs in black slacks wide open, asserting her space. No shrinking violet, this one. She looks at me, throws her hair back, shows me the dark white line of her neck.

"I do so enjoy a man in submission," she says to me.

I enjoy watching you enjoy, I don't reply.

The song is familiar. It rather suits Alex. He proudly told me that he's watched Rocky Horror Picture show one hundred and seventeen times. I wonder where he found the time.

He walks back and forth, sashaying as often I've seen him do in a mall or an airport. He has me count who watches him walk by.

     "A weakling weighing ninety-eight pounds
      Will get sand in his face
      When kicked to the ground;
      And soon in the gym with a determined chin,
      The sweat from his pores as he works for his cause
      Will make him glisten ... and gleam.
      And with massage, and just a little bit of steam,
      He'll be pink and quite clean
      He'll be a strong man. Oh honey..."

Alex's hand is in the air and water droplets from his hair have run down into his face. When the chorus says, "But the wrong man," he stops cold, turning to face the audience. He runs his hand through his hair, and women begin to cheer, deafening the place with shrieks. It sounds like a Beatles concert. The song continues. Alex begins to slide out of his shirt. I don't want to look. I can't look away.

     "He'll eat nutritious high protein and swallow raw eggs. 
     Try to build up his shoulders, his chest, arms, and legs.
     Such an effort if he only knew of my plan.
     In just seven days,

      I can make you a man."

One spotlight clunks off, darkening half his body. I realize with a start that he has taken off his fake arm. It doesn't seem to make any difference to his smile or the way he balances on the balls of his bare feet. He doesn't have gold or glitter on, he isn't wearing any kind of unnatural paint or powder. It's just Alex's skin and the light and I see Marcia/Johnny/whatever her name is lean forward, putting her elbows on her wide-spread knees, dropping her mouth open a fraction. As if it were a sign, Alex's good brown hand begins to flip open the laces of his pants.

       "He'll do press-ups, and chin-ups, do the snatch, clean and jerk.
      He thinks dynamic tension must be hard work.
      Such strenuous living I just don't understand, 
      When in just seven days, oh baby, 

      I can make you a man."

Somehow he wriggles out of his pants, probably the same way he wriggled into them. He has lithe brown legs and narrow feet. I hold back a small snort of laughter: he's wearing gold briefs, a la Rocky. Compliments of the establishment. But his tan isn't fake and he looks totally into this, like he loves the adulation of all the women around him. Ha.

The powers that be have obviously cut out the part where Meatloaf comes in, because the song skips a little.

Frank sings, "One from the vaults. Oh baby! Don't be upset. It was a mercy killing. He had a certain naive charm, but no muscle. Oh!" Alex stops at this and he cocks his head and then he begins to walk around the tables, letting the women trail their hands over him. They look absolutely enchanted. The lights are fully on over the tables, and not one of them shrinks from his armlessness. Not one. They reach out their fingers boldly, greedily, as Alex slowly makes his way back to where Johnny sits, breathing deeply. The other women's heads follow him as surely as some flowers follow the light of the sun, east to west, whatever it takes.

     "But a deltoid and a bicep.
      A hot groin and a tricep.
      Makes me oooh, shake,
      Makes me want to take Charles Atlas by the hand.

      In just seven days I can make you a man."

He stops just in front of her and she looks up at him like he's the only object in the universe, as if he's in space, whirling into infinity. And I can't stand the way they work, the way they build up and destroy each other. So I turn my head away as Alex, standing naught but a foot from her, begins to slide his gold underwear down his long legs.


     "I don't want no dissension
       Just dynamic tension.

      (I'm a muscle fan.)

       In just seven days I can make you a man.

      (Dig it if you can.)

      In just seven days I can make you a man."

The music ends with a parody of the wedding march, slowly drowned out by the wild Bacchanal of cheering women. I watch them and see Alex from the corner of my eye, a slim man who might be dead tomorrow, taking bows as naked as the day he was born. As straight as reinforced concrete, he begins to walk back toward the dancers' exit and his feet slap through showers of money. They are throwing it at him, pelting him with bills, not coins, bills of all denominations.

I want to stand up suddenly, yell, ask if anyone will take him home. They don't realize that it's me that has to wake up with the killing machine tomorrow. That it's me he lays his hands on when he's feeling particularly cruel. That it's me he takes apart. But I drop my head instead and stare at the floor.

She squats in front of me, suddenly, peering up into my downturned face. Greek classical statue brought to life speaks to me.

"It's not so bad. Keep thinking about it, you'll realize you didn't do so badly. Look at it this way," and she licks her lips, smiling at me, "you could have missed."

She presses something into my bandaged hand, something that clinks a little bit, that chinks metal on metal.

Key. Open. Wide.

I close my eyes.

When I open them again, she is gone. In the hole where she sat is Alex, looking extremely smug. He's just wearing his pants again and his tee shirt is piled on the table with his boots. Around him, waiters have gathered up the money that the women threw at him. They are rubberbanding it neatly. There's an absolute hoard of it.

"Can I have a box for that?" he asks one man who is painted like a rainbow. The rainbow nods quietly and brings back a box. Alex loads up the box except for a bundle which he tucks into his shirt. Then he leans over to me and says, "Take this home. Put it in my room. Then do whatever you damn well please. You're released."

The torture is over. I gather up the box and try to smile at him, but I just feel sick and tired. Mostly tired. I want to watch TV, watch a sitcom. Something normal where your problems are solved in half an hour. I leave, and miracle of miracles, he does not try to stop me. I take one look back see Alex with his hand on the rainbow's arm. They refract each other.

The taxi drive is singularly unremarkable. The driver does not even seem to notice that I have a box of bills. Perhaps it's fairy money; perhaps it melts in the morning. I pay the man out of my own money and then I go up and I place the box in his room and I take off all my clothes and I sit in front of the television like that and I try to imagine my own jagged body making money rain upon me.

Something drops with a ching to the floor. I pick it up; it had been tucked inside my bandage. Oh yes, the key to the mythical college library locker. I half-wonder if she was lying, if we shall go to the locker and find only a note that says "Maybe Next Time."

Next time. Next time, I won't take the gun. I'll just back up, quietly, and run like hell for cover. Next time, I'll leave Alex to his own devices. I will.

The couch takes me in. The sitcom blares its innocence. Nothing is simple.



The End.



Notes:

Song credits. *whew*. The intro song is "The Tower of Song" by Leonard Cohen. "Brown Sugar" is by the Rolling Stones. The song Jeffrey doesn't recognize is "Biscuit" by Portishead. "In Just Seven Days" is from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A shout-out to Jennifer Stoy for lending me J. Valmont. If you know who she is, you aren't surprised she has all the power. :)



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