Odin’s balls! This was they kind of thing that got Nixon fiddling on the Panasonic. I was in the midst of my Bogie marathon, right at the part where Sam Spade bitchslaps the crap out of Peter Lorre and tells him to like it. The knock at the window came thick and frenzied, delivered with a fist you could almost feel trembling in the chill October air. And I heard sobs. Another pal on a bender, or perhaps worked over by steaming street toughs on the loose? No. My gut told me it was deep.
I threw my terry-cloth robe on and screamed that I was coming, wading my way past the spent pizza boxes and Pepsi cans. When I got to the door, I took a deep breath, grabbed the home-made truncheon from the umbrella stand and girded myself. We were off to the races, folks.
It was Cooper. Holy Hannah was it ever. It looked like he’d had himself a fricasse to write home about. Salt and pepper hair askew in every conceivable direction, his tie hanging in shreds, stacatto splotches of blood and some greenish fluid sprayed helter-skelter over his white shirt.
“Let me in, they’ll never fuck with me in here!” he cried as his eyes darted madly into the inky night. “Do they know your whereabouts?” He pushed past me with a force that sent him sprawling into the hallway. A switchblade and a pair of dice flew from his person as he landed, and he sat up, racked with another fit of sobs. “Oh if you only knew what they were up to this time! Gather your foodstuffs and ammunition!”
This was a rancid ghost of the Coop I knew, but I kept in mind that he was a brave man, whose qualities often went through histrionic stages before maturing into a steely resolve that came just as a crisis reached its peak. What could be so raw that it had him jabbering on the carpet like this? I placed a cautious hand on his shoulder as we headed downstairs, and assured him that whatever the calamity was, we could get through it and endure. But he merely shook his head and mashed his knuckes into his eyes to stanch the wretched flow.
I silently chided myself. I’d willingly ignored the warning signs the last week had brought. There had been the voicemails, drenched in the Occupy Wall Street din, assuring me that things had never been clearer, that he had got his head right. Whispered, breathless bits about a “program” that was “straightening my concepts out.” This alongside a few e-mailed out-of-focus iphone shots of what appeared to be ritualistic swine deflowering taken in undisclosed alleys adjacent to the protests. One simple line came with the photos:
HELP IS ON THE WAY.
I had been a fool.
As we reached the basement, Coop made a bee-line for the tool-room. “Time’s wasting! They’ll be at our throats before ya know it!” But I shut the door and grabbed him about the shoulders, insisting that we get him set up first. He grabbed his temples and hit the couch. I fetched him my best pillow. Within minutes, he seemed headed towards sleep, though even this was occasionally broken by jagged sobs and more mutterings.
When he remained still long enough, I headed to the phone in the back. His wife might have some insight. Or so I hoped; a chill had developed between the two in recent months, and there’d been whispers of drugs, affairs, drifting.
Whatever. I dialed her.
It rang twice before a gut-rending static picked up. “Yes,” a flat voice that sounded like hers answered declaratively.
“Is this Sandy” I asked.
“There’s nobody here. There never has been.”
A click. Damn. She was in on it.
Before I had any chance to process it, I heard Coop screaming up front. “Stop reaching into my head!” A dull crack rang out. I rushed into the next room to find the damn nightmare deepening.
Coop had smashed his head into and through the front panel of my 33-inch tube tv.The rest of his body hung limply from the set as stray sparks set off and dissipated. A billowy gray smoke wafted around the point of impact.
“Coop!” I cried as I reached his motionless carcass. With a trembling finger, he pointed to the couch where his jacket lay. “The dossier…in the…coat…READ IT!” I ran to the couch and opened the garment to its inside pcket. What I fished through was not much more than a few typed-up pages all folded and crumpled up. I straightened it out. On the front of it was a cover page with a huge-fonted, bold title. My heart lurched up into my throat as I read it.
OPERATION ARCHIPELAGO: THE SEARCH FOR & OCCULT APPLICATIONS OF LENIN’S BALLS
Great God! Had they found it? Did their depair and class hatred know no bounds? Were the wheels already in motion?
I headed to the tool room and poured myself a shot of Cutty. My first drink in ten years. Not that it mattered.
Judgment was on the wind. Now it was time to do the job.