{author’s note: Poe’s Cask of Amontillado was always a favorite story of mine. So naturally, I had to write a modern, though inferior, version for today’s reader.}


Fortune ought to be more discerning when distributing her favors, don’t you agree? Alas, she is not an allegorical likeness of Blind Justice; carefully considering the facts and character of the person or persons involved. Instead, Fortune rides a float in the parade of life, and it is to the outrageous, the overbearing, that she tosses the chance encounters and lucky breaks that create great fortunes. It becomes people like Dayton Bluntwood who benefit the most from Fortune’s unfocused amorality.

It isn’t his net worth, five times mine, as he endlessly reminds me, that I object to. I am well-off, due to my intelligence and hard work. I have the respect of my peers, and the gratitude of all whose use of my code in their applications increases internal cohesion and quickens packet placement.

That is of no matter. What I do is less understood by the average man than string theory. He is more impressed, like Lady Luck, with attention-grabbing fluff. That my work facilitated Dayton’s inclusion in any list of the world’s wealthiest bachelors eats at my stomach lining, intrudes on my thoughts at random like a mosquito buzzing near my ear, a whining little bastard that evades my every slap. As with Dayton’s constant put-downs and practical jokes, any attempt to ignore the buzz in my head is futile.

Forgive me, please, as I tend to lose focus when thinking about Why I made my decision, and not on what is to Be. Come along with me, all will be made clear as we proceed to a rendezvous de deux, the presumed purpose of which was the only way to get the bastard to come alone, without a crowd to entertain with one of his thousand cuts directed at yours truly….

“Halawa Valley? Right, and I’m a hula girl!”

We were talking at last week’s San Diego Future of Software Convention, where Dayton was hosting the premiere of the latest version of his wildly successful contribution to the perversion of AI’s possibilities. I had waited for him to take a break from signing copies of the game. Of course, he had gotten a laugh from the crowd at my expense, introduced me as his valet before following me behind the kiosk reserved for “Animal Wars 4”, where I made the first cast.

“He swears it’s the real deal, Dayton.” But I allowed a little shrug to emphasize my doubt.

“I know this source?”

“No, it’s local. Kid from Hilo, rents one of the smaller interior stores from me, sells surge protectors and earbuds. He’s got a friend based at Hickam, flies a C-130, has a regular flight, Mondays, from Oahu to Beale, about an hour north of here. Usually, he brings in a bud or two on his person, but he told my tenant that since they don’t mess with the pilot’s chutes…”

I was talking too much, giving unneeded detail. As project chairman, I have to know all of it, the goal, the reason, Process and Culmination; Focus. The subject is made to arrive at the conclusion we desire through control of the data with which he is provided. Keep the lie simple, roger, roger, wilco he’s speaking file this sum up now…

Dayton laughed out loud. “So the plane crashes, he stays high without a chute.”

“If he has a pipe and a light.”

We both laughed then. This was good, how it should be, but he always goes too far….

“Sounds like something you’d do.”

The Hate peeked out I don’t think he saw it, stay focused. Laugh a little, look unsure…

“What is it? You don’t trust the guy? I want an ounce or two, if it’s the real deal. Holy Halawa.”

“Hail Halawa! No, I trust him…”

“No, you don’t. And your nose is a joke.” I backed away when he reached out to give it a tweak. “In more ways than one!” Asshole.

“When will you have it?” The fish, he nibbles

“That’s not necessary…” I protested lamely. The angler jiggles the pole, keeps the fish interested in the bait, less wary now.

“Okay, I’ll call you, we’ll get together.”

Dayton looked over at his table, people were walking away, tired of waiting for a chance to buy an overpriced, but autographed, copy of his abominable game.

“Back to work for me! Call me when you have it in hand, my brother!”

My brother, indeed! He gave me one of his condescending backslaps. As we came into sight of the crowd at the signing table, he got another laugh at my expense by pretending to zip up his pants.

It’s Now

I pull my Escalade up next to Dayton’s Phantom Coupe, the one with the cherry-red custom paint job.  The top was going up, he had arrived just before me, a good hour earlier than we had planned. I know he’s been thinking about the Halawan all week, I’m not in the least worried about him sensing anything off-kilter, he wouldn’t notice if I trained a gun’s laser-sight on him, something that I have thought about, trust me. Yes, you can trust me.

I punch a button on the dash, up goes the door concealing a loading dock for the vacant anchor store, I drive in. Dayton obeys my hand signal and parks his sportier ride next to mine.

“Why not do this in your office?”

I lock my car, button my jacket. The sun was going down, the temperature was dropping below the average for a late September night. “Raisa and Jen are working late, fiscal year-end bookkeeping.” I had taken one of the interior stores as an office. From there, I conducted my business, looked after my investments, mostly run-down commercial real estate, a favorite target for Dayton’s non-stop ribbing.

“Why bother locking up?”  Dayton shouts over the rattle and clang of the shutting bay door. With a loud bang, it cuts off the view of what may have been a beautiful sunset. I grope for a switch on the wall and some of the overhead fluorescent fixtures flicker on as Dayton summed up. “This place isn’t on most thieves’ bucket list.”

I don’t answer. Instead, I open a door over which hangs a sign, jagged slashes on each side of the word “DANGER”. A stairway led down into relative darkness.

“Where are you taking us?” Mock horror in his voice. For now.

“You’ll see.” I give a conspiratorial wink. “This will be life-changing, I assure you.”

“So is tetanus.” But he follows me down, touching the grimy and grease-stained handrail as little as possible.

I wait for him at the bottom of the stairway, expecting some comment or another. He doesn’t disappoint.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but it does appear that you’ve sunk to a new low, Willy boy.” He sweeps his hand from my direction down the length of a corridor, intermittently lit with incandescent bulbs over random doorways. The one nearest us, on the left side, illuminated a doorway leading, according to the stenciled wording on the frosted window, to the emergency generators, which came online during power outages. Other siderooms served different functions, warehousing Christmas decorations, snow blowers that could be brought up to the ground floor via the elevator behind the stairway down which we came.

The service corridor extended for 892 feet, the length of West Peak Mall, my mall, one of several commercial properties in my portfolio whose unrealized potential had been a recent drain on my finances, another needle for Dayton to push into the pincushion. Sorry I am for this and future digressions of a similar nature. Tonight the distractions end and I’ll better be able to stay focused.

We begin to walk, Dayton a half-step ahead of me, his custom hard-soled shoes making the only echo. I am more practical, and old sneakers are more suited for the work ahead.. The poured-concrete floor is painted a lighter shade of grey than the block walls, a legacy of the previous owner that I will correct with some cheery white for the walls, maybe a linoleum floor, hire a cleaning service to keep it mopped and shining, when I can begin to concentrate on such mundanities.

A snap of Dayton’s fingers in my face. “Houston to Moon Base, come in!”

“Houston, we have no problem!” that earns a laugh. But I can’t lose focus like that not Now, it’s almost over.

“You toked up on the way here, huh? The Halawa bud?”

Thanks for excusing my fugue state. “No, I haven’t tried it yet. The Holy Halawan awaits our eager, seeking minds!” He likes that touch of camaraderie, and, with a touch of my hand to his back, we resume the journey.

The nature of a dim red light further a hundred steps or so further down the corridor, becomes clear. Dayton laughs. “That’s more like it!” The red glow has become a neon sign reading NO REGRETS, that hangs over a doorless entrance to a room like the others we have passed. But I brought in a rollaway bar with a sink, put an outsized mirror on the wall behind it, and built some shelving that is now stocked with a fine selection of high-priced whiskies, artisan vodkas, and bottles of wine, of vintages that would make any sommelier jealous.

But I am already pulling down a bottle of Dayton’s favorite before he shouts “Laphroaig!” like a war cry.

“This is more like it, my brother!” Internal wince. Focus. I pour us both a shot, we hoist the glasses. “To Uncle Jimmy!”

“To Uncle Jimmy” I lift my glass. Dayton has his eyes closed as he downs his shot, the phony fern sitting on end of the bar has no reaction when I toss my libation in its pot. “Another?”

“As if you have to ask.” I refill the proffered 1 1/2-ounce vessel, then mine. This time, I drink it down. When his attention is drawn to a dart board on the opposite wall, I get a chance to rid myself of a third shot.

“That’s from the bar, isn’t it.”

“Yeah, I had the sign made, the original was lost when the place was bulldozed.”

“Damn, those were good days.” Jimmy was my Mother’s brother, his bar was a favorite watering hole in our grad school years, before Uncle Jim’s voices told him it was Time. He was 42, I’m 42 now. Correlation is not Causation, unless you think too much about it. 42 is just a number, there just comes a Time.

“Pour yourself one, it’s on the house!” I say.

He looks ceilingward, “Or should you say, Under it?” He laughs, too hard, as usual, at his own jokes. Laugh clown, the show will go on. We tap glasses. I offer a toast.

“Congratulations on becoming the nation’s, no, the world’s next billionaire-to-be!” And I meant it, I have no problem with Dayton profiting from mankind’s increasing love of virtual realities, as you see, I am not immune to the attraction. Rather, it is his manner, his dismissive attitude towards the accomplishments of others. I see it in all his interactions, with strangers, other friends, wait staff. No one notices the put-downs, no one but me. Confessing my feelings to mutual friends was fruitless.

“You brood too much”, Was Sanjay’s opinion, shared by many of my oblivious former friends. I just dislike unnecessary talk, voice pollution. Sanjay Chowdhury was our frat’s Febbie, Foreign Exchange Brother.  “He ribs me a lot more for my foreignness than he does for your premature hair loss.” Sanjay also had a way of getting under my skin. “It’s his way, he doesn’t mean to hurt, he’s equal parts narcissistic and shallow.” Sure, he could slough off the sarcasm, the veiled meanness, by passing down the negativity.

Dayton offers a fifth toast that shatters any chance of this ending well for him. .

“To your latest vanity project, may it bring in more revenue than the last one!”

To the very end, I see, he’s going to push my buttons. I look at him downing the fine single-malt over the rim of my own shot glass, wishing away the vision of smashing the bottle of his favorite vintage against his right ear.

He refers, of course, to ‘THESPIANS’, my chain of café-wine bar-dinner theatres, featuring acting lessons, Improv nights, and screens throughout the establishment that show  performances previously recorded by students and patrons, who can vote for their favorite; monthly winners get acting lessons and walk-ons in films made in the area. Karaoke for wannabe actors and actresses, one critic called it, the place has been enthusiastically but thinly adopted by the cognoscenti. The flagship venue is another 400 feet to the east of our current location, and one level higher, next to my more public offices, and almost directly over our final objective. Several well-known stars have bought franchises, there was an uptick in class sizes last quarter, but we have been in the red since the idea’s inception. I keep pouring money into the units. Just last month, I started showing art films late at night.

Other ventures are doing better. This isn’t my only commercial property, and the solar paint start-up is about to announce a successful trial. Every operating platform uses my code, it is part of the World Wide Web. Close to a penny from every sale of every router, plus a fractional percentage of every internet-based transaction, from pizzas to service calls, ends up in one of my bank accounts. Whether my side projects succeed or all fail spectacularly, I’m set for life, such as it is.

Then, with alcoholic wisdom coursing through his veins, Dayton starts in on my businesses, as if my ruminating had been conducted out loud.

“Leveraging the brand, my friend, this is an area in which you have utterly failed!”

“Failed? This is only one of the properties I own free and clear.” I brought the glass to my lips, when he looked at the clock, I poured the contents into the sink, poured us another round. “Do tell, oh, Legendary Business Swami, how one goes about leveraging code?”

“I mean your other businesses, like the acting thing. You have famous investors, but you utilize local drama teachers. Get some grade-B actors, cheap ones but with some degree of name recognition, local connections are a plus, whether they’re between gigs or rehabs, to judge or direct plays, mimes serving pretend drinks, have some fun with it! Put some of the better videos online..“ He was on a roll, nose all up in my business again.

Part of me knows this isn’t the same as his insults, his true talent is promotion, mainly of the self-variety, but he is a genius at milking every dime from every shallow project he has a part in foisting on an ever-further dumbed-down, uncurious, anti-intellectual…

“…and give the winners a solar-painted roof! Cross-brand leveraging, hey, are you listening?” I poured him a final shot and grunted in the affirmative. I file the good ideas he just made in the back of my brain, away from his transgressions, which will be crowding my frontal lobes and vying for my attention for not much longer now.

His insults and advice are delivered in that same condescending tone, together they bombard me, storm-driven waves threatening to breach defenses that need last only a short while longer.

Drink up, let’s go!” I screw the cap back on the bottle, put in its place on the shelves that lined the wall behind the counter. Most of that wall’s surface that was not covered by bottles of the most-requested brands in my uncle’s actual establishment was occupied by a mirror, etched with a simulation of the label of a popular brand of whisky. The ‘G’ in the name obscures the lower half of my once-friend-now-pretend’s reflection, But I see the quizzical wrinkles in his forehead, is that suspicion in his eyes?

“You’re up to something.” He upends the glass, not noticing, or not caring, that I do not follow suit. He tossed the glass my way; how funny if I  drop it, right? I wash both glasses in the sink as he continues to wax deductive.

“It was bugging me, your attitude lately.” I let Dayton lead the way, the wall descends into place behind us, only someone who knew where to look would find the seam. He doesn’t stop talking as we prepare to resume our journey.

“….your attention span shortens, for weeks at a time, no one hears from you, lax on the ol’ personal hygiene…” His hand brushes my face when he uses it to point out my week-old beard. The generous amount of alcohol he’s consumed in such a short time-span has affected  his balance and reflexes. Unfortunately, it has also increased his respect for his own eloquence, a gift that he has always been eager to display.

I wait for him to sum up, my hand is on the short-barreled shotgun Uncle Jimmy kept under his cash register, the one he only pulled out once.

“Now it hits me, I know what’s going on here.“ I slide my hand forward, I feel the trigger guard, flick off the safety.

“This is the way you acted when you were writing your meal ticket! A goal-oriented young man you were,” He recalls. “Single-minded to a fault. I had to tell you when to eat!  Threaten to pull a fuse, cause you to lose all your work, that was still an option back in the day, if you didn’t stop with the zeroes and ones long enough to take a bath.” He smiles that smug smile, that know-it-all grin.

“That’s what it is, isn’t it? You’re writing code again! He was so sure he had hit on the truth.  “You can tell me, you trust me knowing about your over-size man cave here, am I right?” He points the way we had come, indicates the corridor with a swivel of his head..

“So you aren’t going to tell me.”

Oh, but I should! Just bring up the gun, let him have it, watch his body fold up like a cardboard cut-out before he has time to give me a puzzled look.

I let go of the gun’s stock, “I’m going to show you, if you ever get tired of talking and walk.”

“Okay, okay.” He bumps the wall as he negotiates the entrance. “Whoa, turbulent waters, Captain, We’re listing!” He lurches down the hall, exaggerating for my amusement his inebriation; it used to be funny. He is silhouetted by a green glow from ahead of his advance

“Steady as she goes, mate” I repeat the line from our running gag, one we repeated every time we got drunk together, when things were different, better. I stumble a bit. I’ve had a lot less to drink, but Dayton has fifty pounds on me, and his tolerance level for booze was much higher than mine. He is at ease now, as was the goal of this pit stop, but I am not. I need my senses to be operating at top of their range, I need Focus. Now.

Dayton looks back at me from his position a few steps closer to the end. “What was that about your senses now?”

I was talking out loud! This will not do! I’m losing Focus, losing the Now.

“Nothing!” I say too loud. I catch up to him, avoid his eyes.” Keep moving, just a little farther. I feel in my pocket. It’s still there, hasn’t fallen out. It never has, in the hundred times I have rehearsed this. I decide to leave my hands in my pocket, keep it from jumping out, ruining everything. We pass another open bay, one containing a pallet of concrete blocks and another with several bags of cement sitting next to a mixer.

He pays no attention to the contents, noting only that the Kilo of Halawa is not there. He looks at me until I meet his eyes. I know he’s reading me, assessing the total ridiculousness of my scheme.

“Are you taking your meds? I know they fuck you up some, but the doctors said…”

He knows, the façade cracks, I’m losing the Now, because I can’t stop thinking about Then!

“You’re mumbling again, same damn shit as before! Why didn’t I see this sooner?” His look of pity throws me off. The light shining through the last opening, in the end of the corridor, rather than the side, is 20 feet away.


“Let’s just go!”  I strain to sound casual. “Just a few more feet”

But he doesn’t turn in that direction, Instead, he’s busy looking, with open-mouthed astonishment, at the taser I stupidly hung onto when I unpocketed my hand to indicate our, that is, my goal.

Dayton grabs my arm before I can fire the darts into his body, smashes my hand against the wall, The taser clatters to the ground close behind me. I kick at Dayton, feel my foot sink into his gut. He lets me go, and I hit the floor, my knee taking the full weight of the fall. I yell Focus!(out loud?) Ignore the pain. I grab for the taser, Dayton jumps on my back, my breath escapes, only Dayton is yelling now.

“Damn it, Willy! Don’t make me hurt you!”

“Don’t call me …Willy!” I elbow him in the face, he lets go with a grunt. I reach again, success! I twist and fire, holding the weapon in both hands.

He starts to come around as I drag him into the tiny but high-ceilinged room. Another taste of the taser, set at one thousandth of an amp instead of the max, puts him back in limbo. I’m not about to risk killing him, not… Now. I take the syringe from my shirt pocket; that it didn’t break in the fight I take as a sign of my rightness. I find the vein in his wrist, push the air out of the tube, stab the vein on my first try. Practice on Sanjay makes perfect, or made perfect. Ha! My wit returns as the Now comes into Focus, finally. Dayton’s eyes open as the needle pierces the vein, the morphine closes them before he can react…

…“Good morning, sunshine!”

That was a mistake, give him no cues as to date or time of day. No more slip-ups. Focus!

I step over the cement block that I have just set in place and limp into Dayton’s new home. I inspect my work from inside the 16 by 12-foot room ; there is some excess mud to scrape of the floor before it hardens. It will soon be hidden anyway, but I take pride in my work.


It doesn’t bother me now. Now! His eyes come into focus, but mine are more focused, Focused on the Now! Do you finally see? No, you are unclear, like the rest. But you don’t talk back, don’t judge. I like you, I will make you understand. Watch, learn.

I slap him, hard. I laugh at the look on his face. I’m going to laugh a lot from now on.

I slap him again, on the other cheek. He reaches for me, all six inches that the chains allow. He kicks at me, cries with frustration when he realizes that his legs are similarly bound. I sit down on a folding chair, ignoring the pain in my left knee.

“Willy, what are you doing?”

“Getting sick and tired of being called WILLY!” I lean over and scream the last word in his face. “That’s what I’m doing!” There is white all around his side-to-side darting pupils, seeking succor, his breathing sounds labored. They are right, fear does have a smell.

“I’m sorry, William it is.” I just stare. “From now on, buddy!” I stare. He screams,“Forever! What do you want from me?”

“What I’m getting. Oh!” I snap my fingers. “I almost forgot” I shake a joint out of a silver case.

“Remember this? You gave me this case back in college, said I was low-class for keeping joints in old cigarette packs.” I light the joint, take a light hit. The smoke expands in my lungs like a mushroom cloud. ” Halawa, for sure. He lifts his head to meet my hand, the end of the jay glows as he takes a  deep breath. His cough is painful. When the spasm ends, I put it against his lips. “Small hits, baby tokes.” He shakes his head, looking relieved.

After taking three tokes apiece, I mash the roach into the floor next to his shoulder, then drop it in my shirt pocket. “What do you think, Judge? No comment? Waiting for the buzz to fully develop? “ Okay, I’ll go first. I love how the hash notes intertwine with the campfire smell. I’m getting a mind wake-up, thoughts racing by so fast I can only catch an occasional one, and then I can’t hold onto it.”  I look down at him. “It seems to be all head rush, a mind fuck, little to no sluggishness, not much of a body stone, I could work all day behind this shit. You?” No response, maybe the morphine was masking the subtler effects of the weed.

“I guess you’re thinking, ‘Gee, he wouldn’t smoke with me if he was going to kill me’, right?”

Dayton shakes his head , he looks a little less stressed.

“Well, WRONG!!” He hits his head on the floor, trying get as far from me as possible. A drop of spittle runs down his cheek, chased by a tear.

“Calm down, damn it! I’m not going to kill you.”  Right away. “But if, I say IF I was, I would still burn with you, one last time.”.

“What are you gonna do, Willy? Sorry! William?” What are you doing?”

“Call me Bill, I always wanted to be a Bill, but that was Dad’s name, and I hated Billy. Nicknames with Y’s on the end seem, incomplete somehow, you know what I mean?”

“They were right.”

“I’m sorry, what was that? Who was right?”

“Everyone, Eddie, Tom and Suzanne, Joe, the whole group.” He pauses as I ease myself down  onto the floor. “I should have listened, thought they were being dramatic, that you just got weird at times. I was there when you came home from the…”

“Enough! We don’t talk about that” in a calmer voice, I add,” Now is what matters..”  I crawl around behind his head, the pain was not letting up. Dayton’s parting gift to my angst. I Could drop that block on his leg, or his hand, or his face.  Instead, I grab his head, pick it up, turn it from side to side.

“Now, you listen to me, this is your new home. I hope you like the color, jailhouse bathroom green. I picked it myself.” No response. “Okay, you’re undecided. But the real important info, the help file, as it were, is online, and guess what? You’re not!” So, you need to stop feeling morose, anxious, what have you. Got that?”

He nods, tears now running freely down his cheeks. I bang his head on the floor, hold it there. “STOP CRYING!” Looking into his fear-widened eyes from above and upside down makes me laugh.

Time to Focus, I want to move his car before daylight, and that’s only five hours away.  He’s shaking, he can’t Focus. I stroke his cheek until his breaths become longer and deeper.

“Sanjay didn’t make this much of a fuss.” I wanted to say, watch as he comprehends what I am telling him. But then, he would know he is doomed, I want him have hope that rescue will come. So, instead, I once again move his head for him, and I recite the rules.

“The temperature is a constant seventy-five degrees. So you won’t miss your clothes, much.” I had stripped off everything but his boxers while he was sedated. “The lights stay on 24/7. The ceilings are 11-foot high, so I doubt you will be able to disable them, or the motion sensors and cameras mounted up there. But they,..” Here I twisted his head to the right. “..and those mounted flush with the wall, are wired to their own motion detection system that is hooked to a computer in my office. If you cover them, disable them, if you block their view in any way, This won’t happen”. I touched a button on my smartphone, a metal door slid open revealing a tray like the ones in school cafeterias. On it sat a paper cup and what looked like a mudpie sitting on a paper plate.

“That is your breakfast, it is also your lunch. Or dinner, you get fed twice a day. The same nutritious soycake for every meal, and a glass of water. After you eat, and you have five minutes, put the paperware back in the slot, along with any uneaten food. Do not leave out a single crumb, do not tear, fold, crumple, or shred any plate or cup. With me so far?” A nod.

“Good.” I touch another button. As a panel slides into the wall, a combination commode and shower come into view.

You get two chances a day to use the facilities, the door remains open for five minutes, and ..” I touch another button, the door shuts, hard and fast. “..You want to be finished before that happens. Also, the commode gets a seriously hot pressure-washing between uses, so don’t fall asleep in there!” I set his head down gently. “Don’t damage the toilet, although for the life of me, I don’t know why you would.  But people are strange, you know? Never know what someone will do.” There was silence except for Dayton’s quiet pleas to a God he had always treated with disrespect as I insert foam plugs in my ears.

“Because any excessive motion, any strain on any fastener that you could conceivably tamper with, will start this!”

Even through the plugs, the sound, a high-pitched whistling coupled with a foghorn blasting out a full 115 decibels, was painful. Dayton shook his head free of my hands, the chains clasping his wrists were stretched tight as he stupidly tried to cover his ears. I could almost hear his screams over the mechanical din.

I push the button after 10 seconds. As my hearing returns, I heard moans between even more desperate pleas to a higher power. I snap My fingers in His face for a change, it feels good, pleasing. Plus, it worked, sure got his attention. “And we don’t want that, do we, darlin’?

Being that he was exhausted from screaming, all he can manage is a silently mouthed ‘No’.

“You’re doing great!” I clap him on the shoulders. Then I pull a second syringe from my jacket’s inner pocket, push the plunger until it spits “Any questions before I get back to work?” I slide the point home, and Dayton’s second fix of the day spreads throughout his body.

“For the love of God, why.. are …yoouu…? “ his voice fades as his eyes roll back in his head.

“Why is exactly the question That I expect you to dwell on during your stay.” He couldn’t hear me, and he would never hear me again.

I fold the chair, throw it out into the hall. With pliers and screwdrivers, I free Dayton from his physical bonds and unbolted the shackles from the floor. I filled the holes with wet cement, smoothed it with a trowel. The resulting grey circles were the only blemish in the unicolored drabness, the only blemishes in an otherwise perfect result. I mix a last load of cement, wheelbarrow some over to the worksite. Ignoring the pain in my knee, I spread the cement on the previously-laid block, and set another in place. Dayton is snoring. He will be sore in the morning, sleeping on the floor like that for the next 18 hours. But, as I had neglected (Silly me!) to consider sleeping arrangements, that was something he would have to get used to.

I set another block in place. Soon he would be gone, alone. Save for “ the Love of God.”

My laughter echoes up and down the intermittently-lit service tunnel.

“.He’s imploring God to give him the reason for our existence.”

“No, he’s angry at God, look at him shake his fist at the heavens.”

“Because God won’t give him the answers. “

The two teens look like non-conformists the world over. They sit together, watching the most popular video yet to be produced here at Thespians. I prefer the one I edited last night, showing his reaction when the food dispenser opened empty for the third time. From where I sit, I can see that the patrons of three other tables are also watching my old friend’s performance. Great idea, Dayton. Streaming the videos on YourTV.com had increased business a good twenty percent in the last two weeks.

My vantage point gives me line of sight to the front and side entrance to the mall, and the police cars pulling up in front of each one. This time, my lawyer told me, they weren’t coming to ask questions.

Welcome back, glad you could make it. Sorry to disappoint, but it turns out that I am not as good a criminal as I am a software developer.

For one thing, I didn’t consider the possibility that Dayton would subscribe to a GPS vehicle tracking service. Ironically enough, the tracking company relied on software using my code. The car was found at a scenic overlook on the Pacific Highway two hours after the missing persons report was filed. No prints were found, a fact which aroused suspicions immediately.  A camera across the street in a truck stop parking lot captured a grainy video of a man with a limp, walking away from the car. Live, learn, carry on.

The detective coming through the front door had the warrant, the cops standing impassively by the side door served to circumvent any escape, an unnecessary use of police personnel.

The critics at the next table had yet to see the approaching cops.

“I’m telling you, it’s the same guy we saw two weeks ago, he is just doing the character different, more subdued.”

The detective, whom I remember from the first interview, sees me sitting alone, watching his approach. I see him reach under his coat, groping for the holster when I wave my gun at him like a winning hand. A security guard pushes an old couple behind a kiosk selling miniature replicas of famous racing cars.

I aim the starter pistol at the detective, I remember his name now, Chestnut. Pretty smart guy, he made the connection between Dayton’s disappearance and that of Sanjay’s two years earlier. “Stay in town.”, He’d told me. As if I would miss the last act.

“Nah, can’t be!  Same improv set-up, but this guy is a helluva lot skinnier.”

A cop I hadn’t seen approach shoots me in the side. I see smoke coming from the barrel of Chestnut’s gun, but I don’t hear the shot. I fall to the ground, next to table #3, the teen auteurs are backing away, no longer enthralled by a man’s descent into madness. Dayton’s silent screams fail to recapture the attention of the two film buffs. Sorry, old friend, the last round is mine.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Not sure why you should feel so hostile to me, Willy; envious, OK, but malevolent? Those of us in my circles try to always speak positively and indeed supportive of you… when we mention you at all..

    Ok, silly humor aside: What a Masterpiece you’ve written here!! Maybe I don’t get out enough, but the impression is of being in the presence of a rare and burning genius, the kind of writer they’ll say really tributary stuff about after he’s gone.
    Oy, seriously once again, the 1st person narrative lets you celebrate all the nuance, inner dialogue, the full ‘anatomy of a fellow pushed too far’. I just re-read the Poe, and he’d be at least light-green with angst and envy.
    As with the equally-splendid ‘Delano’ series, the reader, coming up for air, may wonder: ‘How does he know all this shit, this tug-meister?’
    In short, a meaty tale, overflowing with veracity, psychology, and drama.
    (Of course the ending knocked the legs out from under my grasp of the action. Dayton escapes, or is liberated?
    This is a one-hour read, for anyone who insists on tasting all the ingredients. Bravo!


    • Jeezuz, think I’ma gonna re-read this daily (hourly?) as a newly-acquired part of my life.
      The intro’s discussion of Fortune’s vagaries alone justifies the price of admission. Btw, shades of Falling Down here, right? The starter-pistol, the ambiguity of who’s the ‘bad guy, the amoebic banality of the Enemy’s video-game noise mirroring the ‘no breakfast after 10:00 scene.


      • I have sat on this story for the better part of a year, and came close to shift-deleting it. Parts of the narrator’s ramblings were drawn from school-age memories of being the second banana to the guys who got the girls or, worse, being ignored by the hip and beautiful.

      • The first three words of my version, btw, are a pun-based reference to the original story, and the whole reason for that rant.

  2. I don’t think Dayton gets out mentally and physically unscathed, if he gets out at all. Hard to say.


  3. Well if you don’t know, who does? That last scene has lots of implied action.
    So glad I copied this to hard-drive plus clay tablets. How you could dream of deleting it is beyond me. Of course there’s a history of authors and painters burning their works, but call me before you take knife to ear, cool?
    On the main theme: I’m thinking it’s easy to confuse the players; jealousy, envy, anger at being gratuitously slighted, cursing the gods for giving one a smaller-portion happy-meal,… I’m giving it deep thought as we speak. D. Fagen’s ‘My Rival’ from Gaucho is as close to a personal brother-in-arms expression as I’ve found.
    More later..


    • When I wrote it, I had it in mind that he would not be found, at least, not in time.
      I should insert a couple of sentences that refer to the untraceability of Dayton’s whereabouts; a mention of the wireless aspect of the automatic controls, an independent source of power, to make his date appear more certain.


      • Yes the audience, sympathetic to the narrator’s justified rage, and in conflict over his sudden apprehension, needs to at least sleep nights believing that the bully is none-the-less still in his cage.

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