"Poison?" I heard him ask. I stayed quiet. "I know. You snare them, somehow."
I wasn't afraid that he'd have me arrested; after all, they got Sid. I was small change. And if he wanted to beat me up, he would have done it already. Instead, he had stood in line at the forever-busy Starbucks (one of two nestled between the historic buildings and antique shops which lined the cobblestone sidewalk of Charles Street) and bought me coffee. I thought he must be psychotic, and I envisioned his dark eyes screwed up as he plotted an intricate revenge while puking pigeon.
I finished pissing and walked out from behind the bushes, vaguely aware of the flies which still followed me.
Eurotrash was sitting on one of the benches in front of a freshly landscaped flowerbed. The new blooms looked like an artist's palette. Eurotrash watched me with the expectancy of a cab driver waiting for a traffic light to change. He seemed to know, intuitively, that I'd answer his question, so I finally opened my bag, rifled through it and brought out my tool.
He laughed in that condescending manner parents use when they don't have the answer to their kids' questions.
"I don't get 'em all this way. The one you ate was already dead on the sidewalk."
His smile twisted slowly like a lemon rind.
We sat down on a small grassy hill and drank our coffee. A young mother walked by, pushing her scream-filled stroller ahead of her. Eurotrash watched her pass and then said:
"Ten minutes of pleasure for a lifetime of aggravation."
Then he turned to me. Although I shivered in the eighty-degree heat of early June, his bruised sweater looked horribly warm.
"Let me see you do it."
"Sorry. I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?" It was the first time he raised his voice, although his next sentence was a quiet hiss like a truck's airbrakes early in the morning. "After all the trouble you caused?"
"That's not the way I see it."
"Oh no? Well, just how do you see it?"
"I warned Sid. I told him. But he bought it anyway." He looked at me with doubting eyes, until I added, "Look, I'm just trying to make enough for an occasional meal."
"Oh, so that makes it all right?"
In the sun's glare, his gelled hair look tenuously brittle, like fresh tar just before it dries. He pulled out a silver cigarette case and opened it. Late one night, I'd seen the same case behind an alarmed shop window on Newbury Street. Up close, his unmarked cigarettes lay there in neat rows, looking like Arlington National Cemetery from the sky. He handed me one, and stuck another between his lips. A flare from his lighter ignited both, and he exhaled a huge sigh of smoke. Crossing one leg over the other, he idly fingered the little tassel on his loafer. I looked past the barely scuffed soles of his shoes and watched his fingers play.
"I went to that restaurant with this beautiful chick," he said, drawing out his sentences nostalgically. "Her name was Amanda. I met her at the M.F.A. Ever been there?"
"I slept on the steps once."
He squinted at me dismissively, and then continued.
"We were both there for the Monet opening. But I was kind of bored, so I started talking to her. To make a long story short, we go to Sid's the next Saturday. We had a great dinner. Good wine, good conversation. Then, we headed to my brownstone in Back Bay. We started up the four flights to my apartment and I began to feel a little queasy. I poured some more wine and suggested we sit on my terrace, 'cause a cool breeze was blowing. I started feeling a little better and we continued our conversation. Then, after another sip of wine, we bent towards each other and started to kiss. I ran my fingers through her hair. Fuckin' silk. Must have cost her a fortune to keep up. Anyway, she put her arms around me, holding me tight. Unfortunately, she held me too tight. I felt a gurgling in my stomach, but it was too late."
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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