Lexington Steele in Billy-Crystal

Beyond the highway, past the small stretch of woodland not yet torn down and the Indian-flesh-colored expanses of tearing-down-in-progress, the city of Billy-Crystal, VA lay on the brink of complete ruin. Appleby’s, P.F. Chang’s, GameStop, Red Lobster, Wal-Mart, Dave and Buster’s, Target, Exxon, and Michael’s were a mirror-image of the constellations amidst the empty blackness of the defunct Best Buy, Harris Teeter, Big Lots!, Pizza Hut, Piggly-Wiggly, 7-11, Starbucks, Wachovia, Kay Jewelers, Subway, Texaco, the Olive Garden, Wegman’s, and the Sherman mall. Waffle House stood resilient on the edge of town, lit partially by a generator, still feeding its amorphous crowd of the deformed, unfortunate, long-maimed, arbitrarily spiteful, the ashy, the doomed, plastic bag-carriers covered in snot and hay, Tourette’s sufferers, toothless complainers, obvious junkies shuffling around with their piles of diligently-accumulated miscellany, paying for endless cups of Joe with coins found…
Cracker Barrel, Roses, Denny’s, and the Cheesecake Factory, all on the same block, went out one after another. Quizno’s, Chik-fil-A, Church’s Chicken, and Blockbuster Video came back on. The town breathed in and out, but barely.

*

Being from the Journals of one Lexington Steele; Hon’rable Captain of Industry, President of Steele Steel, Banking and Electric; age Sixty-Seven

dated March the Fourth, Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Eight

Whilst tormenting the caged animals in my personal zoo, became enraged upon encountering a small primate who, it seemed, to challenge me for my cruelty. So livid was I as a result of this alter-cation that I left a trail of Destruction and Decay in my wake whilst traversing my halls – destruction the likes of which have not yet been seen since the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah! I feel a certain pride in telling you that I destroy’d priceless works of art, gifts from visiting heads of State whom I found disagreeable, and some of the foundation of my very House it-self. My Negress chamber-maid will surely have an Episode upon discovering it, and I am quite positive that I shall have a servant stronger than myself thrash her most righteously for it.
Any-way, it appears that upon my cyclonic path of raging inebriation, I happened to knock out several important power-lines, most notably that which connects to the local Asylum for the Criminally De-Ranged, and the Medical Hospital. A great many of the latter have been taken up to their Reward (or other-wise), and a great number of the former have escaped onto the streets to wreack Havock upon the unsuspecting popu-lace. You see, Dear Journal, the various on/off switches to the power in this fair city are located deep within my Estate, and not even my most trusted assistant or my be-loved Child Bride can access them.
Humorously enough, the honest young Sunday-School Student that I surely once was now fears the discovery of this document, as it displays an unforgivably Callous Negligence on my part with regards to the denizens of this Once-Fair Metropolis, a negligence for which I should by all rights be hang’d. Thus, I shall heighten Security around the area of my Bed-Quarters, so that no Thievery-Prone Minority in my employ shall make any attempt to felch anything incriminating from my Person.

***

Jens Delineation had been losing control of parts of his body, unexpectedly, with different degrees of severity and for different lengths of time for the past several weeks. His top half would conk out, leaving him with a sort of more intense and dedicated version of Restless Leg Syndrome—Jens’ upper body would wake to find itself being dragged around feet-first someplace he didn’t recognize by his own autonomous legs. On other days the legs would quit on him, and he would stand up from his desk and pratfall comically. He would lose the power of his voice, and at much more frightening times, his lungs. Circulations would cut off and come back on again. His left hand would not know what his right hand was doing. He would write checks his ass couldn’t cash. An insensitive misandrist might describe him at times as being a typical male, only thinking with his genitals, and she would be more correct than she knows.
Jens ended up connected to an iron lung, among other much more experimental machines that his HMO wouldn’t cover and the debts of which he could not in a million years compensate for if he made it out. His family did the best they could for him, but they were of relatively modest means and had their own bills to pay. The end came when the power went out in the hospital. When their lights died, so did Jens.

*   **

A man in the maximum security wing of the local mental hospital had been attempting to weave a great pattern across the door of his cell by smashing his head against it. All over the door, dents, blood-stains, bile, even bite-marks decorated the cheap metal that separated him from the outside world. He had been warned plenty of times against it, but the general consensus among security was that they’d rather just let him smash his brains out so that no one would have to deal with him anymore. But to the man, whose name was Dennis, the pattern meant something. To him the pattern wove an epic story of revenge and triumph. He could not write, for his hands were tied, and he could not talk, because no one would listen, so he would speak off the top of his head in the most literal sense possible.
He abandoned this project completely the night his head hit the door and opened it. He had better things to do now.

*  **
*** **** *

Lexington Steele’s right-hand man, Elias Jenkem, approached a room in Steele’s mansion, out of which poured forth a haze of opium smoke. A muffled voice was shouting, out-of-key, “ON-ward Christian SOL-diers, MARCH-ing as to WAR!” Lexington Steele was taking his Wednesday afternoon eagle’s-blood bath.
Scientists would one day discover that Lexington Steele’s brain, unlike any other in humanity, conformed to the ideas proposed by advocates (including Steele himself) of the antiquated pseudoscience phrenology, in which different parts of a person’s brain controlled his or her personality.
 


By the time of this meeting, Steele’s capacity for acceptable behavior, memory, and lies had completely ceased to function.
Jenkem knocked the requisite quarter, then half, notes along with Steele’s singing. A hole exploded in the door and a bullet from inside the room whizzed out and just past Jenkem’s hip. Jenkem put his face in front of the hole and smiled like a frightened chimp.
“Enter!” Steele bellowed.
    All Jenkem knew about the eagle’s blood was that the man who killed the eagles was highly secretive and paranoid and lived in a compound in Montana where most of his time spent not hunting was spent in his personal office, which was kept freezing cold because it was so full of ham, and the man would just sit there eating ham and loving being surrounded by it; and that the man sold the eagle-remains to an equally secretive Swiss trading firm that also sold eagle’s blood for bathing to such high-profile individuals as Julia Roberts, David Geffen, Paul McCartney, Will Ferrell, and Mitch Albom.
Jenkem entered. Steele was lying in a pool of gore, surrounded by opulence. An opium hookah and a bottle of rum sat beside the tub. Light shone down from the window that Steele had commissioned to be made overhead so that he could shoot things while bathing. A tiger’s head looked on apathetically. The smell was unbearable.
“Mr. Jenkem!”
“Yes, sir.”
“My boy.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“My baby child boy.”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Have a sip of this rum.”
“Oh, sir, I couldn’t.”
“Nonsense!” Steele punctuated his generosity by shooting his rifle in the air.
“Are you sure?”
“Course I’m sure. Some of the finest rum in the world. From the Philippines. As a young man I went there on a business trip and after that I just – I just couldn’t drink another kind of rum.”
“Of course not.”
“Now what makes you think you can disturb me while I am taking my Wednesday afternoon eagle’s-blood bath?” He was suddenly stern.
“Well, sir, it’s the matter of the electricity at the hospital, and the asylum. Nobody seems to know how it went out, and we are the sole producers of electricity in the area, and you do have the final say with those switches…” Jenkem’s terror was palpable. He knew he could talk to his boss about the evil, crazy things he obviously did, but he also knew how unstable he was.
“Come closer.”
“Certainly.”
 “You know what I’ve done, don’t you?” Steele stroked Jenkem’s face, causing the stray life-fluid of endangered raptors to roll down Jenkem’s cheeks.
“I… I mean, I can only guess that you cut off the power.”
“Tell me, how much money do you think we’ve saved?”
“Well I actually have the numbers right here. It’s something like twenty percent, sir.”
“For just the hospital and the insane asylum?”
“And the occasional rolling blackouts that have been happening in the suburbs, yes.”
Steele kissed Jenkem’s ear. “How shall we cover it up, do you think?”
“Well, we’ve actually got several people in Public Relations working on that as we speak.” Jenkem fought the urge to cringe at his superior’s advances.
“Who can we blame? A disgruntled Chinaman? Gremlins, perhaps, or phantasms? How about automata gone awry, products of some mad government worker’s secret experiment?”
Jenkem chuckled a little. “I’m sure they’ll think of something.”
“We needn’t worry. People are rubes. They’ll believe anything, won’t they?”
“That’s right.”
“I want you to take some of that money that we’ve saved, and I want you to give yourself a raise.” At this point it was impossible to ignore what was poking out from underneath the pool of blood: it was Jenkem who was giving Steele a raise.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Get that house in Malibu you’ve been talking about. Buy your wife some new, uh… titties.”
“I will, sir.”
“I expect to see them as great as the very moons of Jupiter by the time of this company’s next Harvest Dance.”
“Thank you very much.” Jenkem stood up.
“No, stay with me.”
“Certainly.” Jenkem sat back down on the bathroom floor. There was a silence, and then the Bluetooth attached to Jenkem’s ear lit up and emitted a piercing ring. Jenkem ignored it.
“Pick it up.”
“Oh, it’s alright.”
“I say pick it up.”
Jenkem put his hand up nervously to the device and pressed a button to listen. As soon as Jenkem took his hand away, Steele swiftly punched the mechanized portion of Jenkem’s head with great force. Jenkem let out a loud, involuntary yelp but it was drowned out by Steele’s cackling.
“Good one, sir.” The bludgeoning nearly deafened him in that ear, and it was then that Elias Jenkem started to consider that perhaps, somewhere along the way, he had made a terrible mistake in his life.

**********    ******* **   ** *     ****    ***** ******             *****        **

Outside, cars with every type of awareness ribbon, every breed of plastic testicles, meandered bestial along the tar, beside hundreds of teddy bears and bouquets of counterfeit flora commemorating the deaths of drunk drivers, the falls of the once-fast and furious. The world’s most garish and absurd graveyard. Signs on buses for the ad space they represented, billboards the same way, billboards as warnings from God, storage space places that gave away free lotto tickets for each rental for every wigneck, every juggalo, every hollow, disillusioned teabagger. Delusional pickup trucks with exhaust pipes protruding erect on the sides—“Taz”-emblazoned mini-Mordors—careened towards Roanoke, Petersburg, Hampton Roads, Durham, Raleigh.
Sheetz, Caribou Coffee, the University of Phoenix, Hooter’s, Long John Silver’s, Hardee’s, Bass Pro Shops, Howard Johnson, Regal Cinema, and Sonic flickered on again, off again, products of an American South more Eliotic than Faulknerian, whose soul you could only vaguely make out late at night, driving down 64, in the brief spots where there aren’t any restaurants and there’s only like one car, way off in the distance, its headlights insectile and insignificant, and the night sky and the tar are no longer illuminated, no longer predictable, but instead filled with the wonder and imagination of its viewer’s mind’s projections. This was a South of plastic and concrete and Styrofoam, and of air conditioning, lurching towards its meaningless end, a pretentious Frankenstein less than the sum of its parts.

Subpages (1): The Minnesota Iceman
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