Episode 6: Friday – Jacques

Episode 6

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Sunrise reflections from the window danced to the rhythm of traffic on the other side of the curtains. The light came a little later each day as autumn deepened but the aroma of cut grass and flowers still drifted in. It was time for Jasmine Jackson to begin the daily ceremony.

It started with the sheer black g-string flowing sensually up her legs to fit tightly around her thighs with a snap of the band. Then the nylons. Jasmine would never wear panty hose, cheap vulgar panty hose. She wore only the finest nylon stockings, sheer black and strapless. The first nylon unfolded slowly up her smooth white leg, carefully, no wrinkles, just a shimmering smoothness until the nylon stopped short of white thighs.

And finally, the long flowing red gown with slits up the sides to show off those nylon-sugared legs.

Feeling sexy as hell, Jasmine went to her workstation and sat down, legs crossed to the side as though she were riding a horse sidesaddle. In a few minutes, the Jasmine Jackson website filled the monitor with its images of half naked men and women leaning against washers and dryers on the covers of books with the name Jasmine Jackson in bold letters across the top of each volume. She’d never had a bestseller; in fact, she had never sold more than a few hundred of each title but she had a loyal following, fans who waited eagerly for her next book and who sent her a barrage of flattering emails each time a new title was released.

She’d never had a book signing. She’d never met any of her fans in real life and she rarely went outside the building unless it was for research or inspiration in one of the local laundromats. It was so much more comfortable to stay at home and just write because the writing was everything. The emails of adoration were nice but it really didn’t matter to Jasmine what anyone thought about her writing. She was in this for the writing. Of course there was the occasional death threat from failed writer malcontents but let them come; the surprise they’d get.

It was time to write, time to light the mood candles, close her eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes to get that creative high with the right side of her brain well oxygenated and opening the pathways to her creative wellspring.

And then of course, stick the big ass cigar in her mouth, which she’d never light but would hang from her lips throughout the day’s writing. They were cheap cigars but they did the trick It was the only male thing that Jacques allowed when he was Jasmine Jackson, writer. But then, didn’t women like cigars?

He opened his manuscript to where he’d last finished writing.

“I can’t just go out and screw someone,” says Hillary.

Dawn points her fork at Hillary. “And you can’t go on forever being faithful to the man who dumped you almost a year ago.”

He never wrote till he finished a scene or a chapter. He stopped at the height of things and the next day was like mounting a surf board already riding the crest of a wave—not a bad way to write a book set in a laundromat. All his, or Jasmine’s, books were set in laundromats and they were called laundromances. They had their own special rules:

  1. They must depict common life.
  2. They must be narrated by the laundromat.
  3. There must be at least one laundry tip in the story.
  4. There must be an element of real or potential romance (they are, after all, romances).
  5. None of the romantically involved characters are allowed to speak to each other.
  6. The main theme must always be Things Get Dirty, Things Get Clean.

It took a bundle of skill to write a romance story in which the romantically involved characters couldn’t talk to each other but in story after story Jasmine Jackson created intense relationships without one word spoken by one entangled character to the other. This was made a bit easier by having the laundromat tell the stories, the laundromat being sentient and all. And who better to tell stories than a being containing so many people with so many stories flowing through it every day. The laundromat dove in into their minds and bodies and found stories everywhere. You just had to accept that a building could do the talking.

Jasmine Jackson rolled the tip of the cigar over her lips as she started the day’s writing with an erection.

***

Thirty pages.

Not bad, Jasmine. Thirty pages in one day. You keep getting more and more prolific.

He packed Jasmine’s clothing into its brass box and took it through the hall to the bedroom.

Thirty pages. This one’s going to be out in record time.

The bedroom, like the rest of the flat, was high-ceilinged with tall windows overlooking the park. He walked to a bare wall on the far side of the room and pressed his right thumb into it. A section slid open to reveal a large walk-in closet lined with clothing and boxes. He placed the box with Jasmine’s clothing on top of a stack of other boxes and reached for a blue housecoat from one of the hangers. He threw on the housecoat and opened a drawer in one of the dressers lining the closed wall opposite the hangers, pulled out a pair of boxer shorts and put them on. Goodnight feminine me, nice writing, and hello masculine me. Back in the bedroom, he glanced around. It didn’t seem strange to him that the only furniture was a king size bed and a bedside table with a lamp. He figured his real world should be sparse so as not to encroach on his fictional world, which he liked to think was more real than everything else because it was the world of his own creation.

It was time to make supper, read his emails and rub elbows in cyberspace.

***

Street lights poured copper light through the windows. Candlelight flickered from the candles on the computer desk and on the coffee and side tables in the living room. Jacques’ face glowed eerily blue from the laptop. The writing was more important than the fans, but still, he loved reading emails from his fans. To them, he was this mysterious beautiful woman named Jasmine who wrote romance stories set in laundromats. They didn’t know where she lived or what she looked like. They had questions for her that she left unanswered, responding to their emails with simple notes.

Arial 5

Well, Coral, next time you go to the laundromat, take a notebook and pen like I do night after night, day after day, listening to the sounds of machines, the gushing of water filling the machines, the clicking of buttons and zippers in the dryers, the smell of bleach in the air, bulletin boards with their desperate messages and the thickness of the air. And by the way, Coral, I’m not famous and I’m not rich. I’m a writer. This is what he thought.This is what he wrote:

Arial 6

It wasn’t that he felt any sort of disregard for his readers. He set his stories in laundromats because that epitomized the core of his readers’ desperation—the hum of the machines, the sorting of clothing, the screaming kids—this was the stuff that defined them and he felt that by elevating the laundromat he might elevate their lives a little. Which meant he had to keep his identify secret—cigar sucking man in red dress wouldn’t cut it. He also noticed that most of his readers were single mothers and Jacques was sure that Jasmine’s books were the closet any of them ever came to romance.

Arial 7

Well, Judy, just stick with your next book until it’s finished instead of giving up when the writing becomes work.

Nothing annoyed him more than people who thought there was a magic piece of advice or a simple trick that would turn their daydreams into a national best-seller. Maybe it was because that was how he felt a long time ago until he just sat down and suffered through the work.

Well, Judy…

Arial 8

Um, no. Maybe when you have thousands of obsessive fans.

Arial 9

She’ll be reading this a thousand times and tell all her friends that she and Jasmine Jackson are fellow writers. My good deed for the day. I need a beer.

Mysteriously, there was always a six pack of Bud in the refrigerator.

(Would you like to write a laundromance? Click here for the rules.)

 

 

 

Episode 5: Thursday – Jacky

Episode 5

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Jacky’s Visuals wasn’t a full-scale art gallery with expensive Scandinavian furniture, high walls with ample negative space between paintings and podiums decked with sculpture. Far from it. It was a kiosk not far from the food court at the Frederick Street Mall. Unlike the other kiosks there were no counters or cash registers, there were no shelves or display cases. In fact, nothing was solid except the floor where painted footsteps outlined a back and forth trail in an area of about two hundred square feet…like a path through a maze.

When you stepped on the footsteps an amazing thing happened. All around you, walls hung with photographs of flowers and green plants growing out of concrete and the brick foundations of buildings sprung out of the floor. Giant yellow dandelions sprouted out of grates. Breathtaking images sprung out of the floor. You could reach out and put your hand right through them.

Jacky’s Visuals was a holographic maze activated when you stepped on that magic floor.

On the last wall a holographic touch screen let you buy the images in the gallery. You could order framed prints or electronic copies and, every Thursday, you could meet the artist at the end of the path.

Today was Thursday and Jacky was talking to a beautiful blonde woman somewhere in her early to mid-twenties. Jacky was a good looking mid-thirties man who emanated a casual confidence that attracted women instantly. He was used to the blonde’s dreamy faraway look and he often wondered if he could leave the mall with a different woman each day—something for some reason he’d never tried.

“And you took all of those images right here in the city?” She gestured towards the area she’d just walked through even though nothing was showing at the moment.

Jacky smiled. He`d heard this question hundreds of times. It never failed to amuse him how people found it hard to miss all that beauty they passed every day until they saw his images. “Yes. In fact, all these pictures were taken within a ten block radius of here.”

“Ten blocks!” The woman’s eyes widened as she reached out her arm and put a hand on his forearm. “But I’ve never seen anything like this around here and I’ve been living here for over a year.”

Jacky smiled his usual confident smile. “It’s all around us on every street, every sidewalk, every block, growing out of buildings, railings, manhole covers and the bases of street lights. We just don’t stop long enough to notice it.”

The woman leaned closer, “Maybe I could come with you on one of your photo trips sometime,” she said, tapping her cell phone against her cheek. She gave him her business card and he said he would get in touch with her soon, though he wasn’t sure if he would but it was nice to think he would. He felt a light tap on his right shoulder and turned to see one of his regular customers, Nelson McCain, a businessman who seemed to be as fascinated with city plant life as he was. Jacky smiled and was about to say hello when Nelson said: “I could have sworn I saw you the other night, Monday, on Point Street. But the man I saw was kind of hunched over and wearing a hoodie and seemed to be almost startled when he saw me. Amazing resemblance though.”

“I get that a lot, Mr. McCain,” he said. “I swear I have an army of dopplegangers roaming the city. You said you saw him on Point Street? Haven’t been there in weeks.”

“Suspicious looking fellow,” said McCain. “Picture yourself as Gollum. Something like that.”

“I think I’d rather picture myself as something else, like an eagle or a terrier.”

They both laughed and Jacky showed him some of his new work. He was getting used to people telling him they thought they’d seen him but it still seemed strange, as though he actually did have an army of doppelgängers roaming the city streets.

***

Jacky had sold a dozen prints and he was happy, especially since the blonde had come back half an hour after she left and bought a print of red tulips growing out of a grate beside a construction site. That was the crux of his work—no matter how much concrete and pavement we spread over nature, she’ll always be working to strip it all away. Without the continuous battle of repairs and maintenance, most of what we’ve built for millennia would be mostly gone in a few hundred years. As he rode around on his bike looking for images, he imagined he could feel that buried life waiting to see the sun again.

The autumn air felt good on his face as he bicycled leisurely, looking for a flower breaking through a crack in the sidewalk or wild grass surrounding a metal grate, loosening the pavement supporting it. He loved bicycling this time of the year. The fresh brisk smell and the overwhelming color triggered his senses and he wanted to photograph every square inch of it but he kept to his theme—plants reclaiming the earth. There was so little time to do it. He’d read that, as you grow older, time appears to accelerate, the days seem shorter and the years pass the way months used to pass. This was the way Jacky had always viewed his life. Every day passed in an instant as though he occupied just a short space of time each day and the rest flowed past him like a shadowy presence he could sense but never see.

Oh well.

He loved bicycling. There was a freedom to it that he didn’t feel in a car. Sure, a car was faster and would seem to add some very usable time to his life but he would miss so many potential shots and there was the problem of parking, dealing with traffic…and just the size of the car seemed somehow prohibitive. On his bike, he was quick and nimble. He could zigzag through traffic, park just about anywhere he wanted and he was up close and personal with the city, right where he could see its workings.

He had a small gray backpack that held one camera and three lenses and that was all he needed. He knew how to use his equipment, and he couldn’t think of a single picture he offered at the kiosk that he hadn’t sold multiple times.

Jacky’s thoughts switched tracks almost instantly when he saw what he’d been looking for. Concrete steps led up to a grey metal door on what looked like an abandoned warehouse. The steps were painted blue and sprouting out from the second set of steps was a patch of brilliant yellow buttercups. Jacky particularly loved yellow on blue, basic colors that made each other sing with contrast. He had his bike parked and his camera ready with a medium telephoto lens and he was lining up shots from various angles but he knew the full-on frontal with yellow flowers framed in a deep blue background were his best sellers. He took ten pictures before packing up and getting back on the road.

It was a good day and he was happy.

***

He spent an hour processing his images in Lightroom. He decided on three for his website and kiosk. He would go back to those blue steps and take his tripod to get some more images—that yellow on blue.

Before he turned the computer off, he opened his wallet and looked at the card from the blonde. Her name was Krista Coleman and she was an interior designer. Her email address was on her card. He didn’t date often and he wasn’t sure why that was. He’d certainly had loads of opportunities. Krista was a beautiful woman and he’d enjoyed talking to her. He tapped the edge of the card on the desktop for a few moments before he opened his mail program and asked if she would like to go for a coffee the next time he was at the gallery

He wondered why he felt a sense of unease right after pressing the Send button.

 

(So, I let Jacky’s photography inspire me…at least the idea of biking around town and taking pictures of plants sprouting out of concrete and pavement, trying to take back the land. You can see the results here.)

(Confused by all the characters? Take a gander at this.)

Episode 4: Wednesday – Jax

Episode 4

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Ratlas. That was its name, the lowest and the highest in its host of forms and meanings. It spoke from wherever it was and Jax listened. The specific words were incomprehensible, possibly even be labeled babble by some, but not to Jax. There was meaning for him in the rhythm of sounds, like a cacophony of disjoint music swinging and swaying through his mind, working its way into his body and soul. There were messages in the disarray of sound, messages of hope and despair—whatever was on Ratlas’ mind today. Each day. Day after day. “All will flush away,” it said.

Beautiful.

“I am the message on your answering machine that burns through the recording time before the meaning is clear.” This was the message he deciphered in the babble of sound.

Wonderful.

“You are my portal into the ears and eyes of humanity.”

Yes…I am.

“You must get my word out before it’s too late. You are the only one who can hear me, the only one who can save my message so that I can save you and the rest of the world.”

I’m going to be saved. We’re all going to be saved.

“You are my prophet.”

I am.

“You are hungry now. Go and eat. Think about my words. Carry my message to all those who are ready to listen. You know what you have to do. Eat now. Relax. And then to work.”

Eat. Relax. Work.

Jax rose slowly from his swivel chair, moving with the fluid certainty of a man with a purpose, a man with a message to spread and a world to save. His apartment was large but the walls were bare and the furniture sparse, a carryover from his childhood. He hadn’t come to the city to live life, he’d come to save life.He couldn’t remember the first time he’d contacted Ratlas. Or was it Ratlas who’d contacted him? It didn’t matter. He was the conduit between the message and the world and he wasn’t about to fail in his calling. He took a frozen turkey dinner from the freezer, turned on the oven and put the dinner in before the oven had a chance to pre-heat. While the dinner was cooking, he undressed and went into the washroom for his daily healing shower.

He needed the healing. So much of his life was a mystery to him. The context of his life, the orderliness of it. He often wondered about the way he lived. He knew that it wasn’t like others, not that he knew much of others and how they lived. He knew these things through the internet, through video sites, his readings, the news sites, the blogs and websites. One thing he was sure of was that the world was a mess, that all of humanity was coming undone and needed to be saved. And he’d known all his life that he would play an important role in saving humanity from itself. It was what he was born for. It was why Ratlas wanted him to carry the message.

He would eat, relax and work.

We’re all going to be saved.

***

As usual, the comments box on his blog, The Word In Its Forms and Meanings, was empty. He knew people were reading it. Ratlas had told him so. But they never reacted to his posts, not once, ever. Maybe Ratlas’ message was so powerful that his readers were cowed by his words and didn’t know how to respond. This is what he told himself and he believed it. He was the one spreading Ratlas’ word, saving humanity, making the world a better place to live and it was time to spread today’s message. He put his fingers on the keyboard, closed his eyes, blanked out his mind and, as he liked to put it, blogged from the soul.

DID YOU USE A PLASTIC BAG TODAY AND IF YOU DID SHAME ON YOU FOR USING A PLASTIC BAG IN A WORLD WHERE PLASTIC IS DESPOILING THE LAND THE AIR AND THE WATER IF FACT GARGANTUAN TRACTS OF OCEAN WATER ARE SO POLLUTED WITH PLASTIC THAT IT SPREADS FROM THE SURFACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN WTH PLASTIC SO THICK THAT IT CLOGS THE GILLS OF FISH BLOCKS SUNLIGHT TO THE LIFE THAT ONCE LIVED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA AND IS DYING A SLOW DEATH IN THE ABSENCE OF THE LIFE-GIVING SUN AS GARGANTUAN MOUNTAINS OF USED PLASTIC PRODUCTS CONTINUE TO PILE UP OUTSIDE THE CITIES OF THE WORLD WHERE THEY POISON THE HINTERLANDS ONCE RICH IN IDYLLIC STREAMS TEEMING WITH TROUT AND SALMON BUT NOW SURROUNDED AND CHOCKED BY LANDFILLS BURSTING WITH PLASTIC DISINTEGRATING INTO ITS CHEMICAL MAKEUP AND THE CHEMICALS LEECHING INTO THE GROUND AND THE GROUNDWATER AND SPREADING INTO MAJOR WATERWAYS AND LAKES AND EVENTUALLY INTO THE SEAS AND THE OCEANS WHERE THEY CHANGE THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF THE WATER WHICH EVAPORATES INTO THE AIR AND CHANGES THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF THE AIR THAT WE BREATHE AND EVENTUALLY CHANGES OUR VERY OWN CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND IT’S NO WONDER THAT CONDITIONS LIKE AUTISM AND ADD PLAGUE OUR OFFSPRING WITH CHEMICAL COMPOSITIONS CHANGING OUR VERY MOLECULAR STRUCTURE AND TURNING US INTO THE CHILDREN OF TOMORROW THE BROKEN DOWN GENETICALLY DISINHERITED MUTANTS WE’RE EVOVLVING INTO UNLESS WE STOP USING PLASTIC!

WE NEED TO STOP USING PLASTIC AND IF YOU USED A PLASTIC BAG TODAY THEN SHAME ON YOU AND LET’S HOPE YOU CAN DO BETTER TOMORROW AND IT SENDS THIS MESSAGE OUT TO YOU FROM THE LOWEST AND THE HIGHEST IN ITS HOST OF FORMS AND MEANINGS.

STOP PLASTIC!!!!!!!!

He loved posting all caps. So appropriate for spreading Ratlas’ word. It was the face force and power, something that would strike the eyes of his readers and bleed into their essence. He imagined the looks of horror, the outrage, the fear, the disgust and, in those rare moments when Ratlas offered hope, the relief and the wonder.

Who could comment from that elevated plane of sudden realization?

He opened his email and there it was, a response from the online learning guy.

Arial 4

“First thing I have to get straightened out, Mr. Gabriel…Ratlas isn’t a god. This has nothing to do with religion no matter how mystical Ratlas is.” Jax often talked out loud, as though someone or something could hear him. Maybe Ratlas.

But he’s wrong about the approach, he thought. What it offers is lessons on how to live that we might survive.

He’d already checked out the pricing and production process on his website.

How does he think I found out about him?

But Jax was excited. He needed to carry the message to the world and no matter how successful his blog was, an educational site produced by an expert in education would be perfect. He could advertise it on his blog and create links from the learning site to important pages on his blog. It was the best of all possible worlds and Jax was beginning to feel a little exuberant.

He would truly be the portal into the ears and eyes of humanity. He settled into the long task of describing what exactly he wanted from Jackson Gabriel.

 

Episode 3: Tuesday – Jackson

Episode 3

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Mrs. Gilbert had that look of someone who blended in well with the washing cycles of life. No doubt, she was worn, but worn well—and though the color had faded, the vibrance under the surface of her life was ageless. Jackson figured she was in her late 60s, maybe early 70s. She was tall and blocky with dark stringy hair—and wrinkles. Jackson had never seen anyone as wrinkled as Mrs. Gilbert. Her face was a landscape of valleys and promontories and it was sometimes difficult to say where her mouth began and where it stopped until she moved her lips to speak. Her nose was wrinkled. Her ear lobes were wrinkled. Her arms and legs were wrinkled. But stripped down to just her eyes, she could have been twenty. They sparkled.

Jackson had never seen her go outside. Like him, she had everything delivered to her door. It made him wonder where the sparkle came from.

“I had Mr. Joyce come in and take a look at that faucet,” she said with a warm voice that sometimes cracked when she talked for more than a few minutes. At first he thought she might be a smoker but she never had that smell that smokers had. He guessed that maybe it was allergies or just something she did after a few minutes of talking.

“I noticed, Mrs. Gilbert. Could you thank him for me. I must have been shopping when he came” Jackson, like Mrs. Gilbert, was tall but slim with a runner’s build though he didn’t run. His jaw jutted out just enough to suggest someone in charge of his life.

“I know how those little sounds, like leaky faucets, bother you, Jackson” Mrs. Gilbert knew of Jackson’s need for complete silence when he worked. She’d said once that he was so unlike the others and he’d wondered what the other tenants must be like. He’d never heard any of them, day or night and he only knew of them through Mrs. Gilbert. She was right about the noise thing though. One time he’d lost an entire day’s work because the sound of squirrels scampering in the eves had magnified to thunderclaps as the day wore into evening and made Jackson physically ill before the evening was over. The next day the squirrels were gone and Jackson couldn’t even recall anything being done about them.

“Well, I should get lots of work done today.” He smiled and nodded as he closed the door and he felt just the slightest presence of his mother. She’d died when he was a child but he had no lack of mothering from Mrs. Gilbert.

He had an uncle named Manzer—Uncle Manzer, his mother’s closest friend and someone he’d known since he was a kid but these days he might see him two or three times a year, when there were decisions to be made about his mother’s estate. Manzer took care of those things.

He walked across a room with high ceilings and windows, and pulled the curtains open. The park across the street teemed with runners, mothers with strollers filled with plump babies and retired baby boomers sitting on benches watching life pass by while they talked about lives that had long since faded in their memories and taking on new dimensions as names were forgotten and details changed over time, the way myths and legends evolve.

Those people, the boomers, were his demographic, his clients. Well, maybe not the ones sitting on the bench outside, but others…the ones who’d garnered knowledge and experience through lifetimes dedicated to the work ethic and being the perfect team players. Their brains were gold; their memories, chunks of rough diamonds.

Jackson was their cutter and polisher. His tools were an uncanny ability to extract information and present even the most esoteric concepts simply and clearly. He was the man behind Expert Life, that company everyone had read about in Forbes and Modern Business Innovation. Well, he liked to think that everyone had read about his company but his real thrill was when he nailed it. In the words from his website:

Arial 1

Given the generous pensions of the ones who were gold, Jackson was doing well, and it was the perfect gig for someone with his problem. He worked from home and he hired artists, programmers and web developers through online employment sites. He never had to go outside unless it was absolutely necessary—a sweet situation when you had a pathological fear of people. Put him on a busy city sidewalk and he would fold in on himself so completely he wouldn’t be able to function, he would barely be able to breathe. He’d fainted once, right on the sidewalk, in front of everyone, all those people. He’d needed five stitches to close the gap in the side of his head and he’d stained his favorite blue shirt. Mrs. Gilbert had nearly had a fit.

He never met in person with his clients or contractors. He did business through video messaging or email. Even so, he respected them—they still had things to say and contribute and they weren’t ready to sit on park benches or alone in their homes watching TV and waiting to die. Their years as senior managers were making more money for some of them than they’d made while they were working.

And the work wasn’t without its entertaining moments.

Roy Pickering and Jody Blake had worked at the same company for thirty-five years, starting at the same time and retiring at the same time. They’d been directors of different departments but they worked on the same floor and there were stories that you could feel the hatred they had for each other creeping in the halls between their offices. The hatred started when Jody found out that Roy was having an affair with his wife and it compounded a  hundred fold when she left him to marry Roy. After that, work was daily war between them. They stole each other’s best staff, they tried to get each other fired and for thirty-five years, they never once spoke to each other. Now they were retired, they still weren’t talking…and they were both clients of Jackson’s.

Both had just released courses on conflict resolution in the workplace and the fight was on in the forums. Just for the hell of it, he logged into BetterThanCollege: Self-Training for the Time Besieged, one of the forums that still tolerated the two. Right off, the first posting was from Roy.

Arial 2

But they paid their invoices on time and they trusted Jackson to keep their projects separate and never discuss one’s work with the other. Jackson was the best at what he did and they both knew it.

He opened his email and saw what looked to be something from a potential new client. The subject line read: Need course to save the world. Hope he doesn’t want me to come up with the reference material for that, he thought.

Arial 3

I believe I’ll be demanding payment in advance if I decide to take this one on.

Episode 2: (About Thirty Years Later) Monday – Jack

Episode 2

(New to The Weekly Man? Go here. Reading on your phone? Go here.)

(OK, so Episode 1 was kind of depressing and it ended a bit ambiguously. There was a reason for that and that reason will become apparent, sometime. Since then, thirty years have passed and we’re suddenly caught up with seven very strange people, beginning with Jack…)

There was something wrong with that janitor. Jack knew this for a certainty: he was too amiable…not friendly…amiable. There had to be something wrong with that. Who’s amiable these days? And he made too much noise when he worked, pounding and clanking and buzzing. Jack was sure the noise was intentional, a means to distract him from his work and lower his guard. They were waiting just around the corner from the noise, ready to pounce.

And what was this about the drip from the kitchen tap? How did he know about it? Jack had just noticed it for the first time and he was sure he hadn’t told this man about it. How did he know? Who was he really working for? What’s he doing in my kitchen? Jack was a mess. 

But he was sure this was going to be the day. Yes, today…he wasn’t going to lose his nerve this evening, not tonight. He was ready. He’d been ready for as long as he’d known her and tonight he would prove it, he would prove it to  her and to himself.

Why does fixing a simple tap drip create so much noise? The banging. The Hammering. The squawks and crunches of metal on metal.

Tonight was going to be different. 

***

It was dark. Good. He liked dark. Dark is a hiding place, a place of both safety and danger as opposed to the constant danger of light. Enemies can hide in the dark, waiting for him, their breath held as he approaches, waiting. They’re always waiting for him. He knows this. He lives with it. Sooner or later they’ll get him. That’s inevitable. But they’re not the only ones who can blend in with the dark: Jack was an expert at using its cover against them. Crosby would be proud of him.

Was she there already? Waiting for him? Waiting in the dark? He hoped not. He wanted to be early, see her arrive and watch her wait for him. You can learn a lot watching someone waiting. Like…who they might be working for.

He passed a convenience store wrapped so thick in ads for lotteries and junk food that he couldn’t see inside. Was one of them in there right now? Peeking between the posters, following him with malevolent eyes? Radioing to the next watcher. “He’s heading north on Queen.”

In front of him. A man. Tall, lean, dressed in a long dark rain coat. Looking at him. Staring right into his eyes. Jack’s stomach clenches. His heart races. It’s one of them. He knows it. Coming for him now. The tall man smiles. Insidious smile. A smile that says got you now. He has to find an escape route. 

There’s an alley between the tall man and himself. The tall man is about twenty feet away; the alley, ten feet. He quickens his pace. When he reaches the entrance to the alley, he jumps into the darkness, the safety of dark, and runs. He can’t look back. He doesn’t know if he’s being pursued or not, doesn’t need to know. They’re after him, if not here then somewhere else—the street, his home, on his way to meet her. They’re everywhere. Watching him. Waiting. 

   Metal fire escapes loom over him, their silhouettes spidering up the sides of buildings, offering still more hiding places for them. Garbage bins reek of rotted food. Could they be hiding in those, immersed in yesterday’s meals, peering out from yesterday’s food packaging? He quickens his pace, not even thinking to look behind or around, eyes focussed on the light at the end of the alley. Just a few more feet and he’ll be out. Into light surrounded by darkness.

He slinks into the light of a sparsely peopled street. No traffic. 

Why did she want to meet here? Why not the hustle and bustle of downtown? 

The safety of many eyes. But he needs to see her. He’s put this off too long. He has to know. Is she real? Just another block and he’ll know. She’ll be real and he’ll be with her, with all the promise she gave him in her communications. Oh, the things they would accomplish together. The changes they would make. The world they would create. The empires they would tumble with a flick of their minds.

He sees the coffee shop. The Spinning Cup. Small, dark inside, a conspiratorial place.

She picked well. Just the place to plan and scheme and start the movement that would begin the change. 

He melts into the shadows between shards of light. A cab approaches slowly, the driver’s eyes boring straight into his. He backs deep into the darkness of a doorway. The cab drives by. The driver doesn’t look back. Maybe the driver thought he was looking for a taxi. He looks back at the coffee shop.

He sees her, tall, long blonde hair flowing over a full length tan rain coat. She’s lean and beautiful, with a long hawk-like nose. He can’t see her full face in the darkness but he knows she’s beautiful. How could she not be? Her words, her opinions, her insight, her obvious admiration for his mind. He stands for several minutes watching her as she reaches into a small black purse and pulls out a package of cigarettes. She smokes. He would have to do something about that. She’ll need to be in good health for the struggle ahead. She lights the cigarette with a Bic lighter, inhales deeply and blows out a spiraling cloud of smoke as she puts the lighter back in her purse. 

A man in a short black leather jacket and jeans, wearing a baseball hat backwards walks towards her. She doesn’t look at him. She takes another drag off her cigarette and holds it in until the exact moment the man in the leather coat passes her. 

At that exact moment? 

Why that exact moment? Why did she hold it in so long and pick that exact moment to exhale so that the man in and baseball hat would see it? So that he would know that she was exhaling? 

But he knows the answer to that. He knows the truth behind the exhalation. 

It was a signal. She’s one of them. She’s been one of them all along. The whole thing was a sham. She was working for them, building his trust, luring him in. She’s not in love with him after all. He’d been duped. He feels foolish, hurt, angry. 

She’s one of them. 

He shuffles slowly to the entrance of an alley.

And runs. 

He runs with the sound of Crosby’s cheering splitting him in two. 

***

Three Hours Earlier – Valerie Vine

Valerie Vine didn’t expect him to show up. He never did. She didn’t doubt that he tried, time after time, but he never made it close enough to the meeting place for them to actually meet, and she knew there would be a message sent later, a message of apology with another lame excuse. He’d sent so many and none of them the same. Sorry, but I had a sudden attack of stomach cramps. Sorry, but there was a sudden death in the family. Sorry, but I suddenly realized…

She wouldn’t say she was in love with him; it was more like an intense interest, an obsessive need to get into his head and figure out what made him tick. But then, it wasn’t just that—the curiosity. She felt something else for him, a caring, a concern, a sense of responsibility that she couldn’t understand because she’d never actually met Jack Morrison; at least not face to face. They’d never spoken to each other and all she really knew about him was from their emails and his record at the Agency, and if anyone at the Agency found out about what she was doing she’d be answering a lot of tough questions from people who would be looking to fry her ass. You don’t fraternize with people on the List.

“What the hell are you doing?” She asked herself as she got ready to go to the Spinning Cup Coffee Shop. 

(Today’s takeaway: Never trust a woman named Vine. They’re all with Them. Tomorrow we’ll check in with Jackson. He seems kind of normal, but we’ll see what we can do about that.)

Episode 1 – Surprise

Episode 1

Death loves an expensive cigar.

But there were so many to choose from—a maze of flavors, sizes, and brands, some in glass tubes, metal tubes, plastic wrap, cedar boxes, plastic boxes and metal containers. She would have felt confusion if she had been able to feel more than just the passing of one pointless moment into the next. 

Just get the most expensive one.

The woman with the streaky gray hair was patient but Natalie was beyond caring how anyone treated her. There was a time when for no reason she would have been condescending to this woman who looked so matronly dignified with her grandmother looks, the gold chain dangling from her glasses, the neat black sweater over white blouse—professional looking in a grandmotherly way but working in a tobacco shop attached to a supermarket. There was a time when she would have pointed that out, rubbed it in with snide remarks. But not now, not anymore.

“What’s the most expensive one you have?” Voice flat, uncaring. The woman nodded, opened the lid on a wooden box and gently lifted out a chocolate brown shape that reminded Natalie of a penis from a long-ago lover whose face she couldn’t remember.

“It’s a Cohiba Robusto. Cuban. The most expensive we have.” There was reverence in the woman’s voice. For a cigar. But it was the most expensive. It could have been a thousand dollars. She had plenty of room on her card.

It was $170.

She had a hundred and seventy dollar cigar. Now for the wine.

***

How simple the world becomes when you’re no longer a part of its color and noise with no roller-coasting between joy and pain. Decisions become easier because they don’t matter, decisions like selecting the wine for this special occasion.

Simple. The most expensive.

Forget labels with dates and wineries and logos. Forget Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz and all that crap. Forget red, white, rose, sparkling or dry. Forget body and aroma.

Go for the most expensive.

$49.99

Some bald asshole in a black turtleneck eyeballed her as he leaned against a kayak propped up in a display pushing a new line of wines called Nature Hound. There was a time when she would have been mildly offended by a wine called Nature Hound and perhaps slightly more offended by the crass commercialism of the brightly lit display in a wine store with subdued lighting, teak and rosewood walls, tasteful art and muted music. But not today, not anymore.

$52.79

Today, not even the asshole by the kayak with the cocky eye slant could offend Natalie. She was beyond that, long and far beyond. But he did look a little like Roger, the shape of his skull. Poor Roger.

 $79.98

By the time she’d met Roger she’d been so far gone she’d long forgotten what it was to feel anything. Like his cock inside her. And his weight bearing down on her body. Things like passion and excitement, joy and exuberance. Pain.

$137.99

It had all seemed so mundane, acted out to a boring script. So boring that she hadn’t even tried to fake an orgasm―just lay under him like a plastic doll with an artificial vagina. Not that he’d noticed. None of them ever noticed noticed. Why would they? Maybe they’d been looking for a plastic doll, a place to release their sperm where it had no consequence or meaning.

$419.77

She couldn’t remember their names. Except Roger’s. He’d been the last. After him she’d stopped having sex, about a month ago. She went for long walks, day and night, but not because she enjoyed walking. She just walked. She stood outside store windows gazing in and seeing nothing. She went to movies and stared at screens that might well have been blank. She drifted in and out of bars, floated through clothing stores and past perfume counters. Nothing caught her attention. Nothing interested her.

$6,106.29.

A 2009 Petrus. From Bordeau, France. Six thousand bucks. She bought it.

Now for the hardware.

***

The smell of oil-soaked burlap and machinery with a vague undertow of saw-burned lumber lapped at her nostrils. She faced a botched attempt at re-creating the outdoors through volume and wide walkways that were more like dark alleys leading off from the domed atrium at the store’s entrance. She barely noticed the screech of a deck saw aisles away under a dizzying high ceiling with shelves stretching into heights beyond reach and casting shadows on the concrete floor and dark shapes in the empty spaces of out-of-stock goods, and everywhere a sense of the subterranean, of life in the catacombs and caves of home improvement. The balding man with the round head and frog eyes was trying to impress her with his practical manly knowledge.

“Nope…” All authority and conviction, holding the yellow rope in his hands like it was a living thing, a rare and exotic snake, holding it like a gift. “…not the kind of rope you’d want to bungie jump with. Would be like falling on a steel cable. It’s…”

“I’ll take twenty feet.”

More than enough.

***

She remembered her father’s expensive cigars and her mother’s hatred of them: “All my dresses, my evening gowns for God’s sake, smell like your goddamn cigars!” The whole house smelled of cigar, even the guest rooms. It was the scent of Natalie’s childhood. Wisps of cigar smoke drifted through the room like velvet clouds. Not a bad cigar, but the wine wasn’t all that great for six thousand bucks a bottle. On the other hand, nothing had the full body of life for her anymore—that bouquet of interest in the next moment. But the wine had given her a decent buzz, enough to finish this. Just finish it. She reached over her head and tugged the rope. Taut. Strong. No give. 

Wouldn’t want to bungie jump with this.

It was clear to her now why she’d bought this condo, the room, with its wooden beams in the ceiling, strong enough with the steel eye hook to hold her weight.

No note. Why bother? Who’d read it?

None of the men she’d fucked would read it. Not even the women she’d fucked and definitely not her parents if they had still been alive. If she’d had a sense of humor she would have cracked a smile when she thought about how she’d buried them in separate graveyards so they couldn’t argue in death. She had their money and their house with five guest rooms that had never been used. She’d sold it.

For her it was nothing more than an echo chamber of her parents’ endless arguments and the smell of cigar smoke permeating her and her mother’s lives . Outside, the two acres of manicured lawns were seen by few others than the grounds keepers. She wasn’t surprised when she couldn’t remember the address when she sold the house. 

Her parents were gone. The house was gone. Any shred of life she’d ever had in her was gone. She was ice with blood vessels.

It was time. 

She steadied herself on the stool. She found it interesting that she wasn’t nervous or fearful. Her body was still and her mind was calm. She might have been in a meditation class. She’d tried that years ago but she’d been more interested in the instructor than learning how to meditate. It didn’t occur to her to look up at some deity that might save her or welcome her after the plunge away from her life, but this wasn’t something she’d ever think about. The only thing that caught her attention now as a churning feeling in her stomach. She tried to ignore it but the movement of things in her stomach was getting loud with strange digestive noises. 

And now it was more than noise. 

She was going to vomit.

Of all times: standing on a ladder, noose around her neck, thinking her last pointless thoughts, and she was going to throw up. The warning taste moved up into her esophagus, into her mouth—bile, acid, the shitty wine. No…she wasn’t going to die with a mouth full of puke. No…not that way. She lifted the rope from around her neck, stepped carefully down the metal ladder, walked unsteadily to the bathroom and fell to her knees over the toilet. It started instantly and violently and it was accompanied by a feeling she’d never known before, a warm feeling, a feeling. Something was growing inside her. She thought: This is a surprise.

(Sorry for the weird beginning, but this will make sense later int the novel. Tomorrow, we meet Jack, a man so paranoid that he keeps the woman he loves out of his life because he thinks she’s working for Them.)

How Do You Read a Coffee Break Novel?

read novel

You would think I would have the decency and the brains to limit the world’s first daily serialized coffee break novel to five days a week…those weekdays traditionally recognized as work days in the 1950s image of the perfect world where everybody clocked in at 9 in the morning and stumbled out at 5 PM. But I have neither.

And I don’t really feel bad about it. Not everyone works in an office. Not everyone has coffee breaks. Not everyone drinks coffee. And since this is a world’s first, not everyone knows how to read it. There will be chaos and war sprouting out of arguments over how to read a coffee break novel if you don’t have a coffee break. Families will purge members who drink tea on their coffee breaks. I’ve already received disguised death threats from football fans expressing their outrage that The Weekly Man will be published not just weekdays…but Saturday and Sunday as well…even though I had no say in that. You can thank the novel’s characters for that piece of insanity.

I’ve thought deeply about this and I’ve come up with some options.

You can read The Weekly Man five days a week on your morning or afternoon coffee break…and you can come in to work for a few minutes on Saturday and Sunday to read it. I foresee objections to this option and offer the following alternatives:

  • Stay home on the weekends and read three days’ worth of episodes on Monday.
  • Have your weekend coffee breaks at home in a room simulated to look like your work space.
  • Don’t bother reading those episodes, which will very likely increase the novel’s mystery aspect.

Personally, none of these options appeal to me, but then, I’m bald and have an unruly beard that I try to conceal from the public.

Now, let’s suppose you don’t have coffee breaks, don’t drink coffee, don’t work because you’re a 105 year old hippie like me, don’t have time on your 3 minute coffee break or…don’t whatever. I have a page, a hidden page that doesn’t appear on my website’s navigation bar because it’s a secret page. It has all the episodes, every single one of them listed for the whole two and a half months of its serialization.

One problem though.

Each episode will be posted on its scheduled date…not all at once. But you can still put aside some time and read say, a week’s worth or a few days’ worth. And you don’t even have to drink coffee while you’re reading. You can drink beer. Or tea. Click here for the secret page…but don’t tell anyone else. This is just for you.

Come to think of it, reading a weeks’ worth of episodes each Saturday would be more like the original serialized novels from writers like Dickens a thousand years before they had coffee breaks.

Using this secret link will allow you to read the whole novel after all the episodes have been published. But keep in mind…that would require a lot of clicking because each episode requires you to click to open it. You’ll get Click Thumb and Fingers and your hand will fall off.

Here’s another option that just occurred to me: Read the episodes at night while you drink coffee on a break from your evening activities. How cool would that be? You’re watching a movie with friends and suddenly stand up and announce, “I think I’ll have a coffee break now and read The Weekly Man.” You’ll be envied as the loneliest person on the block. I know this from experience.

I guess it boils down to this: Read it however you want. I’ve put together a few options to give you some choice and that choice is yours.

You can read The Weekly Man on its own blog here. https://www.theweeklyman.com. If you’re reading on a cell phone or tablet, read it at the secret place mentioned above. And check out the welcome page at https://biffmitchell.com/the-weekly-man for more options and lots of freebies for readers and writers.