Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Number

Tony's brain looked like an atrophied testicle. Squishy and
deformed it seeped down the side of his broken face.
Instinctively his tongue snaked into action. Chutney, he
thought. He'd tasted chutney before. With her. But Tony
didn't want to know what his brains tasted like. And he
didn't want to think about her. He was supposed to be numb.

Had he done it right? He tried to recall the Mosquito Man's
instructions.

The Mosquito Man was the local authority on pain. Broken
hearts more than cracked bones but he'd seen his fair share
of decapitations and whatnot in the streets of Bosnia. Or
Afghanistan or wherever the fuck it was.

"What you need is the Number," the Mosquito Man said to Tony.
He pronounced it like "nummer."

Tony was exhausted and he had no clue what was being said.
Why was "Freeze Frame" on the radio? He was in the army
surplus store where he liked to buy his slaps. That's what he
called those camouflage pants that army guys wear. He
pictured some war hero eating a bullet. Maybe the soldier had
tumbled down the side of a mountain-under a hailstorm of
enemy fire-in one final act of self-sacrifice that would free
up another pair of battle-tested slaps for the boys back
home.

The slaps were neatly folded in a cubicle shelf. Deep down
Tony understood that they were newly manufactured-probably by
some 13-year-old Malaysian girl. Close enough, he thought.

"She left me," Tony said as he dropped his pants to the
floor, readying himself for the slaps.

"Of course she did," the Mosquito Man replied. "She was
20,000 leagues out of your sea."

It was true. Not that there was anything wrong with Tony. He
was a copyright lawyer for a multinational media conglomerate
and his penis was reasonably sized. But she was spectacular.
Six feet tall and a genius with numbers. She was sweet and
diabolical in just the right measure. And her vagina was
delicious.

"I don't even know why I'm here," Tony said, now parading
around the store in his underpants. "I can't get her out of
my mind."

"That's why you need the Number," insisted the Mosquito Man
from behind the counter. "It will take the pain away."

Tony was intrigued. "It's not possible. Is it?"

"It is if you do it right."

"That could be a problem," replied Tony. "I don't have much
propensity for doing things right."

The Mosquito Man plonked an old-fashioned half-rifle onto the
countertop. The deep clanking sound excited Tony and he
contemplated dropping to the ground.

"Try it," taunted the Mosquito Man. "it's a single shot,
bolt-action parlor pistol."

Tony fingered the solid shaft but didn't pick it up. The word
"Number" was engraved on the walnut frame. It looked as if a
serial number had originally followed, but it was right where
the shooter's middle finger rested-and it had been rubbed
clean.

"This is it?" asked Tony. "You want me to blow my brains out
with a sawed-off musket?"

"It's a little more complicated than that." The Mosquito Man
chuckled. "It'll take some guts. But I guarantee you won't be
pining around after that stuck up cunt anymore."

And then the Mosquito Man explained what Tony had to do. "Go
home," he said. "Take the 'Number' with you and lay it on
your pillow. Treat it nice. Like a lady."

Tony picked up the "Number" and softly caressed the finger
hook that curved neatly underneath the trigger.

The Mosquito Man continued. "Then go into your old lady's
drawers and pick out an outfit. Grab one that really makes
your balls tingle."

"Outfit?" Tony didn't like how this was developing.

"Yes. The whole nine yards. Shoes, stockings, panties, skirt,
blouse, scarf, hat. A complete ensemble."

"She took her panties," Tony replied.

"Of course she did. But they always leave some dirties in the
laundry basket."

"So then what?" Tony was intrigued now. And a little hard.

"Put them on," said the Mosquito Man seriously.

"On what?"

"On. Take off your clothes and put on hers. Everything. And
then grab the photograph of her that's sitting on your
bedside table. You haven't smashed it yet have you?"

"No," said Tony. "Not yet."

"Good. Take it out of the frame and hold it in your left
hand. Then, with your right, pick up the 'Number' from the
bed. Feel the grain of the wood against your palm."

"Should I be writing this down?" asked Tony, now completely
entranced.

"No. Where does she get dressed in the morning?"

"In the parlor."

"Good. There's a full-length mirror in the parlor isn't
there?" asked the Mosquito Man. "Never mind, of course there
is. Saunter over to the mirror. Hold the picture…"

"Saunter?"

"Yes, saunter. Just like your old lady would. It's important.
Now, stick the photograph into the seam at the top of the
mirror."

"Should I be wearing makeup?" asked Tony.

"No. Back away from the mirror at a very slight angle. About
ten feet. Stand just so-this is important-just so the
photograph covers the reflection of your face. Draw the
'Number' up and aim it right between the eyes of your baby
girl. Hold it with both hands."

"So I'm going to shoot the mirror?" Tony was perplexed.

"No," said the Mosquito Man. "You're going to shoot your
girl. The mind is a clever, clever organism that knows how to
be daft when it needs to be. Trust me. When you look at that
mirror, you'll see her. Now count it down. Ten to one. Let
the hatred stew. Let the love build. Let them mix and boil
and overflow. When you hit one, squeeze the trigger."

"And that's it?" asked Tony. "Then I'll be free?"

"Free," said the Mosquito Man. "Free."

But he wasn't free. Something had gone terribly wrong. Here
he was, in his own parlor, blood and brains dripping onto his
exposed lace bra; stockings torn and his too-tight skirt
twisted uncomfortably around his hips. He was losing
consciousness. He looked up to the mirror to check his hair.
He hated it when his bangs flopped forward.

His gaze fixed on a shard of displaced mirror. What he saw
made his brain pulsate heavily two times. And then he was
gone.

The Mosquito Man chuckled. He inhaled the drifting smoke that
wafted from his own single shot, bolt-action parlor pistol.
She stood at his side, smiling.

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