Read The Four Fingers of Death Online

Authors: Rick Moody

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General

The Four Fingers of Death (9 page)

BOOK: The Four Fingers of Death
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In the process, I began to piece together some of the mysterious chapters in the life of D. Tyrannosaurus. He was not exactly forthcoming, but I worked on him. D. adhered to the story that he was born among theropods, sixty-five million years ago, and in that period of his youth he assumed the stalking position and fed on smaller lizards as they emerged from the undergrowth. He also claimed to have mutated into his present shape.
Conversationally, and otherwise, he was a sociologist of every kind of neglected group, of every association of losers, the street people of the city, with their leathery skin and milky eyes, the itinerants, the ragpickers, the freelance probability experts, the addicts, the call girls with their bioluminescent scarifications. He was extremely passionate about the oldest profession. He never took them home, at least I never saw him take a streetwalker home, but he was forever introducing me. “Montese,” he would say, “this is Maria, and she’s going to advise me.”
He had a sibling, he said—though what kind of sibling he wouldn’t make clear—who was laboring in the adult film business, in production, one of the last robust sectors of our economy. This sibling, he said, in a rather fateful moment, had recently forwarded D.’s name to a fly-by-night book-publishing company whose business involved
novelizations of low-budget films
for the online gaming market and webcasting. These novelizations were to be written on the cheap, quickly, and were intended to be composed of the screenplay with a bit of connective tissue woven in to make them palatable to a logophobic online audience. Novelizations generated a little extra money for the e-book goons, and they left something behind for the collecting market. Novelizations monetized a leftover piece of the filmmaking and gaming business,
the screenplay
, and were farmed out as piecework. The writer retained no rights.
Obviously, this was a very different kind of writing from the sort that I pursued. D. had written, by his estimate, seventeen of these online novels, in little more than five years. Under a great variety of pseudonyms. His favorite novelizations, he said, were romantic comedies, because these were the most imaginative. He could say the woman wore red, and then a page later he could say she wore white, as long as their wedding arrived on schedule on or about page 200.
Now there was a new assignment, D. said. A sort of a science-fiction film. Even though D. believed that science fiction was anal-sadistic, even though it was possible to find
belief in extraterrestrial intelligence
in the
DSM-VIII
, where it was considered floridly psychotic, D. was actually looking forward to writing this science-fiction novelization, into which he was going to attempt to bury little hunks of his own philosophical interests, he said, secret messages, critiques of power and nationalism, homophobia, sexism, and racism.
“How much are you getting for the assignment? If you don’t mind my asking?”
He didn’t mind. He was getting $750. For three weeks’ work.
As I say, this kind of mercenary writing was radically different from what I imagined I could do myself, and yet I suddenly coveted D.’s job. That is, I didn’t want to take his job away from him, since this would not have been neighborly, but I wanted to do something more than just write seven-word short stories. I wanted to write the novelization in order to inspire pride in my wife. I wanted to tilt at the windmill of an audience. I wanted to capture
the age
. I wanted to think my way out of desperation and cockroach infestation. Now that Tara was back in the house and encouraging me again, it seemed a natural and organic example of artistic progression. I just needed to get my foot in the door.
“Let’s play a game for the novelization.”
“What do you mean?” said the Tyrannosaurus.
“A game of chess!”
We were out in front of that restaurant where they cooked the meat on the roof. They housed the meat in some kind of cast-iron container—hoisted it up, sealed it off so raptors couldn’t get to it—and it roasted in the midday sun. The restaurant with the meat on the roof had prickly pear enchiladas, a personal favorite. Tasted like mango and bar soap.
D. said, “Would have to be untimed.”
I said, “How long would you need? For your moves?”
“One move a week.”
“Oh, come on. Are you going to consult a team of experts? I’ll give you a pawn. I’ll give you the queen’s pawn. You’ll still get white.”
“What do I get? If I win?” D.’s whispery voice was barely audible in the stiff wind, which brought with it a brace of tumbleweeds, cartwheeling across an empty parking lot before us.
“You get to do the novelization yourself.”
He said, “I
already
get to write the book.”
At this point, D. Tyrannosaurus demonstrated an intimate knowledge of a subject that surprised me. Indeed, his intimate knowledge had been so obscured in the prior weeks of our friendship that the light that shone at this moment seemed enough to make me review the friendship in its entirety. He said, “If I win I’d sure be happy to have a Dave McClintock rookie card, class B issue.”
Have I spoken to the
classes
of McClintock cards? I have already noted that McClintock’s bionic arm was not visible in the baseball card that first commemorated his elevation to the big leagues. You will recall the details. In general I prefer that people think there is no card but this one. However, in fact, this was not the story in its entirety. The photograph that had been taken of his left profile was in fact the most prominent of the Dave “Three-in-One” McClintock rookie cards. But there was also a second issue of the cards in which McClintock was shot from the right side of the plate (he was a switch-hitter), and the titanium arm, with its ferocious mechanization, its industrial sinews and assembly-line microchip controls, was clearly visible protruding from a short-sleeved jersey.
There were counterfeit cards in those days, sure, back when home color printing was first taking off. There were entire cartels devoted to the issuance of counterfeit cards. And, eventually, because this is how people are, some portion of the collecting world became equally taken with the fakes. With the result that the Topps Company began issuing cards with watermarks and testimonial stamps. A McClintock rookie card, class B, would thus have the titanium arm
and
the Topps watermark, which was in the shape of a standard-issue baseball bat.
“How do you know about that?” I asked, as we were seated. And I said it with a fair amount of shock.
“How do I know about what?” said D.
“McClintock, class B cards.”
“You told me about it.”
“I don’t think I did.”
“You did.”
“I did not.”
“You did.”
You know, there are
any
number of powerful additives in the water supply these days, additives that are meant to redress the follies of human character, diseases of the age, such as
repeated reorganizing of household objects, hearty laughter at neutral remarks
, the ever-popular
fear of photosynthesis and photosynthesizers
. And chief among these, I well know, is the almost total inability to remember anything that has happened, also known as
elective pseudo-dementia
. The almost total inability to remember events that seemed earth-shattering less than a year ago, the complete obliteration of trends inside of weeks, the reversal of strongly held opinions, and so forth—I wasn’t the only person who had disabilities like these. Therefore, I wasn’t likely to remember if I had or had not discussed Dave “Three-in-One” McClintock with D. Tyrannosaurus. And yet I believed I had not. I believed that Dave “Three-in-One” McClintock, class B series, and all facts pursuant to this matter were secured in a register of discretion that I did not trot out for just anyone, especially not a frequenter of ladies of the night. And perhaps the incompleteness of my trust was evident on my face, because the man known as Tyrannosaurus immediately began to attempt a flanking maneuver.
“Forget about it, man.” The waiter brought around a plate of unidentifiable smoked meats.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Everybody knows about McClintock and the class B cards.”
“No, everybody does
not
,” I said.
Again, I began combing through my half-remembered and somewhat fuzzy recollections of events at which D. Tyrannosaurus had been present, over the weeks. I began trying to decide if his sudden appearance was nothing but an attempt to locate one of the nation’s preeminent dealers in baseball cards, in order to blandish him out of valuable assets and transfer them to
who knows where
, Macao, or Mauritania, or Madagascar.
“Montese,” D. offered, “this seems sudden, so I’m just going to tell you the truth. You know it in your heart anyway. What my particular interest is, these days, well, my particular interest is in collecting things that are in danger of being
lost
. That’s why, for example”—gesturing around the chronically empty interior of the restaurant of smoked meats—“I wanted to come to this… grill. There are more people standing around waiting to serve the food than there are people in here to eat. The only people left who can really afford restaurants bring security.
“Let’s say I knew you had some baseball cards, okay? Let’s say I even came down to this furnace of a place because you have some baseball cards. Does that mean that I think any less of you? Does that mean that I hung around for however many weeks just to get some damn baseball cards? I know how this sounds, and I’m sure it’s hard to hear, but I stuck around because I’m happy to spend some time with other people who
see
how things are now. You’re an interesting guy, Montese. You’re a guy with vision. Maybe even you’re a genuine part of history. You’re the man who was able to anticipate history, to anticipate what the body is in the process of becoming, and in this card you see the composite that is the human body, the composite it’s
becoming
, and so you’re the man I, and the people I represent, needed to see.”
I would describe my discontent as being like a skin lesion, or like an archipelago of buboes. I had felt that D. was my first legitimate new friend in some years, and now I felt like some kind of exotic
figurine
he had collected so as to have me on his
manifest
, along with one of the Dave “Three-in-One” McClintock class B baseball cards and a bunch of cyborg prototypes. Another man might have left the table immediately, certain that he would sunder relations with D. Tyrannosaurus. Another man might have lamented his naïveté, or started a fistfight, or contacted some oversight agency, or hired a trained professional to deal with Tyrannosaurus. But not me.
I said: “It’s a wager.”
Because even if he was a wheeler and a dealer, or some kind of conceptual artist who specialized in duping innocents, I would crush him on the chessboard. I would read up on games played with a missing pawn; I would read up on the Bulgarian tactics that had proven so popular in the chess world recently. I would find whatever hidden stratagems I required to make D. Tyrannosaurus, convicted felon, rue the day he had come to the desert.
Next, as an effective researcher, I determined to use my talents to see what was available about D. on the web, now largely pages in Cantonese. As any citizen of the NAFTA treaty knows, the surveillance capabilities of the web permit much, for a nominal fee, and I managed to locate the alumnae association from his graduate school, the prison records for all the prisons in his home state; I even scoured lists of art exhibitions by persons with variants of his name. I did find six or seven persons with names that had
D’
s and
T
’s as their initial consonants who had similar biographies. But as far as a particular D. Tyrannosaurus, or any variant of this name I could come up with, the results were thin. What was the nature of his felony? Was his crime against property? Was he an arsonist or some kind of detonator of government buildings? Was his crime somehow indivisible from his art? Was his crime political or philosophical? It was only the most determined, these days, who could stay out of the reach of the global media, but among these, apparently, was D. Tyrannosaurus.
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