It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter VI (Part I)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writing Month Contest. As of this post, he has managed 24,000 words, and has taken to talking to chipmunks...invisible chipmunks.)

Chapter 6
In Which the Plot Thickens and Earl Becomes Very Confused

I’m not sure which was more alarming to me, the fact that at least one of the Chinese gentlemen sitting across from me in the restaurant was armed, or that these blokes were clever enough to sneak a message into a fortune cookie and have it delivered to me here in the restaurant that I just happened to stop at today.

I thought about it for a moment and decided that the gun in the first bit had a great deal to do with the cleverness in the second bit. It also explained why much of the restaurant staff were huddled near the back, conversing loudly in either Mandarin or Cantonese, both of which I could never tell apart to save my life, which was a very real possibility at the moment.

“Please allow me to introduce myself,” said the shorter of the two gentlemen, speaking immaculate, if slightly accented English. “I am Mr. Wang, and this is my associate, Mr. Dong.”

Despite myself, I let out a brief snort of laughter. I managed to get this under control by imagining my obituary reading, “Earl Fando - killed by a man named ‘Dong.’”

“I assure you Mr. Fando, that this is no laughing matter,” said Mr. Wang, in a smooth voice.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I nervously responded. “It’s just that both your names are, erm… well, they have other connotations.”

“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Wang.

“Well,” I continued, “I mean… it’s a bit phallic… sort of like the opposite of a name you’d find in a Bond movie.”

“I don’t understand this at all, Mr. Fando,” Mr. Wang replied, bemusedly.

“Well… listen, do you have a first name, I could use… I mean a given name?” I added, suddenly remembering that in Chinese, as in many other Asian traditions, the surname was given first.

“Well, yes… I suppose I could tell you that,” Mr. Wang replied, smiling slightly. “It’s ‘Hung.’”

“Erm…better just go on a formal basis, then,” I quietly replied, after a very short pause.

“Do you know why we are here to visit with you?” asked Mr. Wang.

“You really like Chinese food?” I offered hopefully.

Mr. Wang laughed quietly.

“Well, I do love Chinese food,” he said, “but my first choice would be American barbecue. I very much fancy the dry rubbed baby back ribs. No, no, we are here on important business.”

“Ah, important business,” I repeated. I tried to do the quiet laughing bit thing myself, but it only sounded like gas seeping out of my esophagus.

“You do know what business I speak of, Mr. Fando, yes?” continued Mr. Wang, in a voice that was smoother than a pound of whipped margarine.

“Actually, no, I don’t,” I replied, feeling certain for the first time in the conversation. I glanced over at Mr. Dong. He was either coldly staring at me or asleep. I couldn’t tell from the sunglasses.

“Mr. Fando,” continued Mr. Wang, “We know that you have received a special package from a government courier, and that you have only today visited the Phoenix Corporation headquarters, even though they have completely shut down operations in the last 72 hours, and we know that you visited the home of one of their security guards, which was most regrettably destroyed by fire. Surely, this is not a coincidence?”

“Well, I mean, it could be couldn’t it?” I replied. This sounded fairly lame, so I tried the quiet laughter thing again but only managed a soft wheeze.

“Perhaps you should take a drink,” Mr. Wang helpfully suggested. “Mr. Fando, we did not come all the way here to play games,” he continued.

This sentence seemed to pick up Mr. Dong’s lagging attention. He sat up a bit straighter in his chair. However, as I looked around, I realised he was just trying to get a better look at one of the waitresses, the attractive young woman, who was now nervously circling the restaurant, trying to wait tables and possibly collect my bill without getting too close to the two armed gentlemen.

“Not even a bit of Parcheesi?” I finally asked. That sounded barely cleverer, so I tried to relax in my chair, but my muscles would only agree to a nervous cramp in the pit of my back. I couldn’t help but admire though how easy James Bond made this sort of banter look.

“Mr. Fando,” said Mr. Wang, his voice almost imperceptibly sharper, “We are patient men, but we do not have all the time in the world.” He nudged Mr. Dong and the taller man got out of his seat and stood up. I braced myself for any potential violence. Being six-foot and one inch myself, I figured that, if I was shot, I could at least fall on one of them and that my corpse might pin them until the police arrived. I also briefly contemplated trying to hit one of them in the temple with the sharp end of the remaining half of the fortune cookie, but I concluded that they were skilled enough to simply block or eat this tactic.

Mr. Wang stood up. He held out a card with the word “Wang” and a cell number on it.

“Please call me if you decide that you have any information you would like to give me,” he said, in a polite voice. “I can be reached at this number at any time. I do hope you will call.”

Then, they both turned and walked out the door. Mr. Dong gave a slight bow to the attractive waitress as he passed.

I sat in my chair and let out a long breath of air. The room seemed to spin just a tiny bit and so I took another sip of my drink.

The waitress quickly walked by and picked it up to be refilled. Considering all this, I sat another 20 minutes finishing it before I set my credit card down on the bill tray. The waitress came by to pick up the bill. She was holding a small slip of paper.

“They left you this also,” she said in a tentative voice. I looked over the document carefully.

It was their bill for a bunch of takeout. They were playing hardball now.

After I got back in my car, I gave a quick call to my wife, but she was away from her desk. I then called Stew at the golf course, but his cell phone was still off. By this time he was well into the back nine, if not in the clubhouse sipping on a nice lager. There was nothing for it but to head home.

When I got home, amazingly I was able to go right to the computer and add 4,500 words to the novel. I concluded that nothing inspires writers like the presence of death. I also concluded that I would aim for being just a little less inspired than, say Hemingway.

The story was starting to shape up a little. The buxom ex-model had revealed that the package delivery men were foreign spies, who had a nasty habit of stiffing their enemies with their bills at restaurants. At first, I had her revealing a few other things as well, but decided that she and the detective should get to know each other a bit more before they got to that.

The plot unfolded with a bit more suspense in that I let on that the detective had a bit of a past with the CIA, including a stint as an agent, and a shorter stint as Chuck Barris’s handler. I left the work at a scene where the detective and the ex-model were examining the remains of the ex-model’s boyfriend, who had gotten to close to the truth about the package delivery secret agent blokes, whatever that truth would ultimately be. Frankly, I hadn’t a clue. I just liked the idea of ending a scene with the sentence, “He was as charred as a plate of dry rubbed baby back ribs.” I figured that if Mr. Wang was going to have lunch on my account, then he could at least earn it.

At that point, I was so stressed out, that I did the only thing my body could. I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes.

When I next opened them, I was sitting in the middle of Coney Island. I’d never been there before, but I knew exactly where I was because of the huge roller coaster and the large Nathan’s sign over the big hot dog stand. Only, it didn’t quite say Nathan’s. My eyes squinted as I focused harder, trying to make out the lettering, which seemed odd and angular. I’ve always had extremely good vision, even to where I could read motorway signs from up to 600 metres away. However, this sign would simply not come together for me.

I was strangely unalarmed at the prospect of suddenly being a couple of thousand miles away from my home, without any plausible explanation whatsoever. It was even weirder that I was unfazed by the glowing plumes of blood red fire that were shooting out of the top of what I thought was Nathan’s. The clouds in the sky were red too, taking on the peculiar light of these strange flames.

Although I am normally a cautious bloke, I decided to go up on the roof of this eatery to see just what the hell was going on. I went in the main entrance and made my way to the back, past hundreds of diners, who were all hunched over large plates of food, with a packet of mustard in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other.

I found a stairwell in the back of the restaurant and began to make my way towards the top. The stairwell rose up and up at an increasingly steep angle. Halfway up to the top, it began to spiral around and around like one of those circus performers who hang on to a rope by their teeth and spin. My teeth were beginning to hurt just thinking about it.

I kept climbing upwards and upwards to the top. As I spun slowly upwards, red smoke began to thickly wrap itself around me. Strangely, I was not coughing, even though I have allergies and smoke irritates my throat as though I’d swallowed a sheet of sandpaper. Around me I thought I could see eyes and voices as I climbed those ruddy awful stairs. The eyes seemed to be wild with pain and the voices kept crying out something that sounded an awful lot like “Order up!” only in Japanese accents.

Finally, I reached the roof. There, standing in the midst of this riot of smoke and flame, was a young man holding a sword. He stood silently observing the scenes on the street below. I walked up to him slowly, the fire and smoke dancing around me as though really loud and driving music were playing, which it wasn’t. There was only the crackling sound of flame and smoke and those bizarre short order cooks. I moved closer. The young man was wearing some kind of elaborate ancient armour and a helmet that tapered as it reached the crown of his head. The armour and helmet had layers like scales, and some kind of script symbol on them. I stood and stared at them for a long while.

Suddenly, the young man spoke.

“I never should have done it!” he shouted above the flames. “It’s all gone wrong!”

I finally was able to speak and asked, “What in blazes, no pun intended, are you on about?”

He slowly turned towards me and his eyes were fire. Flame was seeping out of his mouth. He took a deep, searing breath and then spoke again.

“I am the Nuclear Samurai and I have destroyed history by using my powers!!!”

My first reply, if I remember correctly, was, “Oh, crap.”

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