Friday, July 30, 2010

Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 4

  Sharon sighed. “I’m not so sure that I like this game. Especially if dead people are going to send me party favors.”

  Hexom signaled to Bambi that his raspberry tea was getting a bit low, and she immediately raced to retrieve another glass, knocking aside co-workers like there was a prize of some kind. Two seconds later, she presented the fresh offering, managing to lightly caress one of her breasts during the delivery. Hexom winked at her, resulting in sudden hi-beams and a small moan as Bambi’s libido raged untamed, then he turned to Sharon. “You have no idea. It just gets more twisted as it goes along.”

  Sharon pointed at her own parched glass, indicating that Bambi should share the love. Bambi reluctantly headed for another round, most likely intending to desecrate it in some way, possibly in a poisonous manner that would narrow the competition for Hexom’s affections. Poor, empty-headed thing. The disappointments she must face on a daily basis.

  Sharon sighed again, mainly because it was sometimes fun to do so. “But why did it take three years from your getting the clue until you found me? Do you work for the government?”

  Hexom took a surprisingly large gulp of the tea, and then subconsciously smacked his lips, proving he was one of those people who feel it necessary to advertise their level of consumption satisfaction, much to the growing chagrin of nearby non-smackers. “Well, I didn’t initially take any of this seriously, just as I’m sure you’re not quite buying it at the moment. And it seems that I was the first…. invited player, if you will… and most of the rules had not been defined. I seem to be some type of guinea pig-”

  A cell phone went off, warbling something operatic, so it obviously had to be Hexom’s device. He reached into a cleverly tailored and concealed pocket, removing something sleek and futuristic that would be outdated in three days. He glanced at the incoming number and flipped it open. “Yes?”

  Whoever it was immediately launched into a diatribe of some kind, a stream of words that were indecipherable to Sharon, even though she did try to listen, because that was also fun to do. Hexom caught her eye, held a finger to his lips, then gently removed the phone from his ear and tenderly pressed a button.

  Instantly, an eerie, sexless voice came through a tiny opening at the bottom of the unit. “… because you KNOW the rules, Hex, you CAN’T say anything you’re not allowed to say, because I WILL find out and you will be disqualified, and you KNOW that if that happens you’ll-…. Hexom, take me off speaker phone immediately!” Hexom lunged for the button but before he could quite press it, the genderless voice shared a few more words. “Hello, Sharon. Nice to finally meet you.”

  Sharon felt a chill start somewhere between her shoulder blades and the plunge downward. Things had just gone from amusing diversion to creepy unease.

  The voice decided it had other things to do. “I’ll talk to you later, Hexom. You’ve been a very naughty boy.”


  Sharon stared at Hex in amazement. “He calls you? Can’t you trace the call and have him arrested? This is ridiculous. Why are you putting up with ANY of this?”

  Hexom held up his hand. “First, we don’t know that if it’s a male or a female. The voice is slightly different every single time. But the tone, the inflections, are the same. And of course I tried involving the authorities, back in the day, but trust me when I say that THAT will get you nowhere, and it makes this person mad. Our host has an amazing amount of friends. And they are everywhere.”

  Sharon scoffed. “Host? As if this were a dinner party.” She grabbed her bottomless purse and began to rummage about once more, setting aside a hair dryer and a jar of mayonnaise before locating her cigarettes and lighting one, doing so with the practiced ease of someone who probably did this twenty-six times before getting out of bed in the morning.

  Instantly, the insipid manager was back at the table. “M’am, we don’t allow you to bring your own condiments into the bar.”

  Sharon glanced at the mayo, thought briefly, then reached for it with determination. The manager turned and fled, as if what was about to come happened all the time in here. Sharon hurled the jar with great skill, narrowly missing the manager as he dodged at precisely the right time. The jar then connected with the head of a pretty Indonesian woman who was enjoying spinach and bacon fajitas, knocking her to the ground where she lay motionless, a tortilla still clutched in one hand like a doughy handkerchief.

  One of the servers, a hefty manboy who didn’t seem to ever speak despite taking food orders from patrons, strolled up, grabbed Indiana, and dragged her into a small room on the left. Interesting. Was there a stack of missing citizens in there? Why would they need an entire room for such a thing?

  Back to Hexom. “Actually, the dinner-party analogy is somewhat apt. Something is always being served. You just never know what it’s going to be. You just keep eating until you figure it all out, or you stop getting invitations.”

  “Stop getting invitations,” repeated Sharon, flicking ashes everywhere but into the ashtray. “What does THAT mean?”

  Hexom pursed his lips. “It means you disappear. And someone takes your place. As you might surmise, there was a change to the guest list just last evening. It was in the papers this morning, you know.”

  Sharon paused with the cigarette halfway between the empty ashtray and her mystified lips. “This is in the papers? Newspapers?”

  “Yes. In the personals section, naturally. Can’t attract too much attention with a banner headline and all. Wouldn’t do.”

  Sharon snapped her fingers at Bambi as she stood in the shadows, scribbling “Mrs. Hexom Breen” on a napkin. “Urchin girl, come here.“ Bambi scurried over, a look of absolute terror in her dimly-lit eyes. “Is there something I could-”

  “Does this wretched place have newspapers?”

  This was apparently a new and confusing word for Bambi. “Newspapers?”

  Sharon flicked an ash with extreme frustration. “Those things that boys on bikes throw at your house when it’s still dark.”

  A brief image of airborne condoms flittered through Bambi’s head, but it was quickly gone because both of her brain cells were working overtime just trying to keep her alive. Releasing a small squeak, she ran to find the manager, who was scraping lasagna off a wall. They consulted quietly, with fingers pointed back at Sharon, until the manager’s head finally began to nod.

  Bambi scurried back to the table. “He says there’s a newspaper box outside.”

  Sharon leaned over to peer out the front window. Indeed there was. She reached into her cornucopia bag and then chunked some coins in Bambi’s direction. “Go get me one.”

  Bambi hesitated. “We’re not allowed to go outside when-”

  “GO!” bellowed Sharon, then lit another cigarette.

  Bambi squeaked again and then rushed out the door, operating on pure survival instinct and wishing she had listened to her mother about taking that typing class. Unable to understand how the coins could make the paper box open, she picked up a brick left over from the gang fight last Saturday and began to beat at the box until the door fell open. Bambi grabbed the entire contents, ran into the restaurant, leaped over the accountant, landed on his carefully stacked pile of papers, sending them slithering, nearly lost her balance, managed to stay upright by clutching an anonymous breast, and then arrived at the table.

  Breathless, she set the pile of newspapers in between Sharon and Hexom, then mooned at Hexom. (Perhaps he would marry her for being so nimble and efficient.)

  Sharon lifted the top paper, then shoved the rest of them onto the floor. Flipping to the personals section, she queried Hexom: “What am I looking for?”

  He took a breath. “This particular one is from ‘Peggy Lee,’ but the name always changes. Another part of the game.”

  Sharon ran a finger down the smeary newsprint until she found “Peggy’s” notice, reading it aloud. “Rest in peace, Sara. You won’t be missed. You grow cold, but your chair will not.” Sharon looked up at Hexom. “What the hell?”

  “Changing of the guard. The new chair is for you.”

  “But how would I even know that this message-”

  Hexom smiled. “You’ll learn. And you’ll check the personals every day.”

  Sharon made a petulant noise, refolded the paper, and then tossed it on the floor with its friends. A corner of the paper slapped against a cowboy boot. A very large cowboy boot, parked next to an equally large twin. Sharon and Hexom’s eyes traveled up the boots, up the legs and over the torso of an extremely tall, stunning man, who was holding a box.

  “Hi, Miss Horizons” said this man, revealing gleaming white teeth that any sane person would want to lick and worship. “I brought the package you wanted.”

  Hexom was stunned. “Wow. They can keep my burger. I’ll take that to go.”

  Sharon laughed, taking the proffered box. “Thank you, Alejandro. You may go wait in the car.” The wall of man turned and walked away, stepping over the accountant.

  Hexom was still drooling. “Where did you find him?”

  Sharon waved a hand. “A friend of mine specializes in such things. He cleans the pool every morning. Naked. It’s better than caffeine. And let me assure you that the drapes match the carpet. You could fish with it. And I make sure someone throws leaves in the pool every night. Now, let’s see what’s in the box.”

  She tore into the parcel, tossing bits of cardboard into the wind. Eventually, she came across a phone, one that exactly matched the style of Hexom’s instrument.

  “You’ll need that in a minute,” explained Hexom. “Keep going.”

  At first there didn’t appear to be anything else. Sharon sighed. “There’s just this packing slip.”

  “Look closer,” Hexom instructed.

  Sharon studied the sheet. “Oh. Well, it’s got little checkboxes with lines to the side. But everything is blank. And there’s a big blank box at the bottom.”

  Hexom: “How many checkboxes? Twenty?”

  Sharon counted quickly and confirmed. “Twenty.”

  “Those are the twenty stones.”

  Sharon looked up. “Stones?”

  Hexom smiled. “Think of them as clues. And the box at the bottom?”


  “That’s where you’ll write the name of the person who is trying to kill me.”

  Sharon’s new phone suddenly started to ring.

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