,,I am by Larry's Fajitas of District of Columbia,'' I say. <The corner of T and 18th,> I think. I walk behind stagecoach.
People stand and step between jerking, stopping stagecoaches and rickshaws.
I stop before a rickshaw mover.
,,Move, move, move,'' becomes, ''MOVE, MOVE, MOVE...''
I walk beyond rickshaw.
I stare at Larry's Fajitas building.
It is half the block, five levels, exposed chrome plastic beams frame window walls. Chrome plastic beams frame the Stars and Stripes. Chrome plastic beams buttress from ground to wall.
The chrome plastic buttresses frame couple tables.
<|Appears same.> I step and slide between people standing. >|Where pointing congov, Psycho?<
Psycho says, ,,The subprime target pointing-at-Dick congov have detained other man with similar profile of Dick.''
<|Stagnant, muggy air.>
People sit and eat.
Buttress vents blow cool air upon tables and people.
Velvet rope frames sidewalk tables near vents. People queue along velvet rope. The rope guides people under a metal awning to four doors.
Podium is between four doors.
People stand on street and talk. People wear holsters holding Thirty-eight Specials.
I shuffle and pause and shuffle through people.
The stagecoaches and rickshaws pull and jerk along street.
Movers say slow, ,,Move...Move...Move...''
A cone of white light shines beyond buildings.
Hovercopter hovers above another street.
People queue from street corner and along the velvet rope to Larry's Fajitas open doors.
Congov walk along queue, stand on intersection corners, sit and watch from Larry's Fajitas seats. Congov walk along vehicle gardens.
Signs shine blue-red-white Larry's Fajitas.
<|Vehicle gardens.> I step by Porsche then Bentley vehicle gardens.
,,MOVE. MOVE. MOVE. MOVE. MOVE...,'' is heard.
<|Army.> I turn head.
Twelve soldiers pull a stagecoach left to right.
Soldiers wear black and white plastic armor uniforms. Grey chevrons flow from elbow to wrist. Rifles upon shoulder are held by one hand while other hand holds steel pole of cannon wagon. Black and white boots step in cadence with wheel turn and the count of, ''MOVE. MOVE. MOVE. MOVE. MOVE...''
<|More Army.> I pull jacket from shoulder. <|Maybe Psycho?>
Jacket twirls, <|Like a twisting sniper harness,> through air.
Psycho says, ,,Primary targets and secondary targets are in Larry's Fajitas. They walk up stairs to third level. Mustang was invited to eat with the primary targets.''
<|Mustang is good.> Arms slide through jacket sleeves. Shoulders, back, chest rub between people.
People stand between vehicle gardens.
I step between Bentley and BMW vehicle gardens.
Rickshaw movers step in place with, ,,Move, Move, Move, Move...''
I wipe handkerchief over face, neck and wrist. I button top two shirt buttons and pull tie from pocket and whip it around neck.
Tie unrolls around neck.
I pull, knot, pull tie ends. I step and stop, step and stop, step and stop to curb. I flex shoulders to fit jacket. <|Tight.> I feel a few thin jacket fibers snap.
People push from behind.
I step over curb to sidewalk. I bump a shoulder, say, ,,Excuse me.'' I bump another shoulder. ''Sorry.'' <|People out.>
Chatter, laughter, plate clinks are. Congov murmurs surround.
People shoulder to shoulder, back to front, shuffle feet through loose groups and tight pairs.
Sixteen Secret Sentry queue for Larry's Fajitas.
I grab handkerchief and wipe neck and face with handkerchief, fold handkerchief into a flower and stick handkerchief flower in jacket pocket. <|Lunch?>
Psycho says, ,,Sub-targeted. Ranged. Ready for objectives to fulfill the mission.''
,,There is no mission,'' I say. I think, <|Or work?>
Sour feet fumes fill nose.
Red, white and blue neon signs glow from doors of Porsche and Bentley vehicle gardens.
People step from street to sidewalk.
Stagecoaches and rickshaws move end to end to end. Movers say, ,,Move, move, move, move...''
I shuffle and step by Ram truck bed. <|Hibiscus and crapemyrtles,> flowers bloom. <|Bloomed,> I think.
Six people wear red plastic thigh holsters. <|Golden.> Forty-four caliber hand guns are in thigh holsters.
,,Psycho needs to dump nuclear waste,'' says Psycho.
,,Waste?'' I say, ''Didn't your creators create something.'' I think to Psycho, >|Something to store waste?<
Psycho says, ,,Psycho nearing end of energy cycle. Psycho nuclear waste storage is full.''
,,When will you dump?'' I pull handkerchief flower from jacket pocket.
Psycho says, ,,Estimated time of nuclear dump is fifty-nine minutes.''
I step and shuffle with people. <|By design detection.>
People stand. Their arms are folded.
I see thoughts to Psycho, >|Psycho, your processes should be commanding you to leave to avoid processing the waste dump that should require the kill process to complete.<
Psycho says, ''Nuclear waste dump doesn't require kill process.''
The thin jacket is tight and pulls the shoulders back.
<|Need to focus.> I look down. <|Need new jacket.> I adjust collar with hands, think, <|Doesn't matter,> pull tie knot to neck, shake tie knot. <|Psycho real in this reality.> I level collar. <|If they know they know.> I step by Hummer rat and pigeon cages. The stainless steel doors reflect laser light.
Sweat seeps and forms sweat beads upon forehead.
I stand. I wipe face with handkerchief then fold into a flower for pocket.
Carp swim through Suburban aquarium.
Withered southern magnolias die in a Spyder vehicle garden.
<|A graveyard.> I step afore Larry's Fajitas awning.
Awning lights cast flame light upon people holding whiskey cups.
I turn head and look behind.
People to people stand between velvet rope, front doors, vehicle gardens, white oaks. People look at a Porsche 911 aquarium.
I step and shuffle to Porsche 911 aquarium.
People are dressed in suits and dresses; shiny black purses, shoes and belts; <|No bright colors;> shades of gray with dots of brown and purple; white skirts. A column of black or white suits, ties, shirts, collars stand front to back to front to back.
People clap and cheer as server of Larry's Fajitas clasps and pulls a flapping carp from Porsche 911.
The server raises carp above head and walks along the people line toward four doors.
People follow server through people.
I step with group through crowd. <|Congov always looking other way.> I step by Secret Sentry and blacksuits and dark spectacles.
The talk and laughter fades.
The people line spans along velvet ropes and tables.
Tables are covered with plates of food, cups of whiskey and carafes of water.
People watch the fish, the server and the group pass.
Server holds carp above, says, ,,Move, please. Move, please. Move, please...,'' and walks along people line along velvet rope.
The group follows.
We turn left.
Podium is between four doors. Two doors are left of podium. Two doors are right of podium. The people line along velvet rope leads to two doors right of podium.
Server says, ''Dinner table with carp coming through.''
The group forms a line. The people line along velvet rope steps back from a chrome colored bomb scan and lobe scan.
<|Line.> I step forward and step forward. <|Water.>
The people line along velvet rope stands, holds whiskey and water, stares. <|At us.> They stare at the group line.
The group line steps forward.
Sweat beads on nose.
<|Why not people line to go other way?> I think, step forward.
People exit building from two doors to the podium's left. The exiting people bisect the people line.
<|Why not exit from the right.> I step forward.
A blacksuit with red tie stands in people line. <|Looks like he wants to fight.>
The group line steps forward.
The people line stands.
<|Congov is line.> I smile.
Sweat beads connect to form a stream.
A man and a woman stand by scanner frame's sides. Both wear black slacks, white bow tie, gray button shirt and black sleeveless jacket.
<|Both could kick my ass.> I step forward.
Sweat stream flows along nose to tip.
<|Both eat.> I step forward. <|Did he play Football?>
Sweat drop hangs from nose tip.
I step between woman and man and stop before a white line. <|He was on the Skins.>
Sweat drop falls.
The ex-Skins player holds up an open palm. His goggles are hyperscan goggles.
I think to the ex-Skins player, >|Are you Rich Lead?<
The man aims goggles, <|At me,> lips smile. His head pivots side to side.
>|Is that the first time you have been asked?<
The man pivots his head side to side.
>|You a Skins fan?<
The man pivots his head up and down.
,,Good,'' says the woman behind.
I wink at man.
I step through entrance.
Cool air blows from above and below.
Body cools. Body sweats.
Chrome beams span from floor to ceiling. Railroad tie floor's rivets shine. The chrome railings reflect the bright white light shining from above.
I pull handkerchief flower from jacket pocket. I step between people.
Sweat beads on forehead bounce and slide and form a drop on chin.
<|Who controls Psycho?> I pat forehead with handkerchief, think, <|No Psycho,> wipe chin, wipe around cuff below wrist. <|If detected, seen, citizen panic fires. Everyone lets loose panic fire. Bullets fly and kill.> I fold handkerchief into flower and put flower in jacket pocket.
Distant laughter rises above the everywhere chatter. Cups clash and emit a clink.
Cool air blows on skin. Skin cools.
Small white diodes hang from ceiling beams. <|Like thousands of stars illuminating a day.>
The fish, the server and the group walk left to stairs.
I step by gun check line.
Cool air blows on skin.
People stand in tight groups. Cups are held before waist. The area before the stairs is crowded. Hall to storage area and restroom is full of people.
Whiskey fumes fill head.
I smile. I walk to bar, look behind. <|...Left...>
Shoulder rubs between standing people.
Two blacksuits with dark spectacles enter through exit door.
I wedge between people. ,,Excuse me,'' I say. I walk by reservation podium and left to stairs.
The server, carp and group climb to level two.
I climb stairs and look up, step upon level two, walk to stairs. I climb stairs.
Server, carp and group walk between tables.
Air is cool and still.
I climb white plastic stairs with shiny chrome edges, look down.
Second level of Larry's Fajitas tables are full. Four-top tables fill floor. People sit around tables. People maze through skinny spaces between tables and sitting people. Tables are covered with small plates. Servers and busboys walk between tables. Bright white table cloths reflect the bright white light.
<|No Mustang.> I sweat. <|No Mustang. Secret Sentries and other congov eat looking forward.> I pull out handkerchief and wipe forehead. I fold it into a flower and put it in front pocket. I look at second level.
Server holds flapping carp over corner table.
I look up. I step from stairs to third level. <|...Full.>
Third level tables are four and two and six-top tables. People sit shoulder to shoulder.
I walk straight, lean upon left railing and squeeze by railing and table and server, step right, walk behind another server and between tables. <|Mustang, empty seat.> I step between two six-top tables. <|Two Secret Sentry, behind Mustang. A Secret Sentry clearing tables.>
Empty seat is before Mustang.
Mustang talks with one of four people. One is near empty seat. One and Mustang talk with smiles.
<|Richard?> I think. I sit. I sweat. I feel and think, <|I have done what Psycho needs me to do.> I sit facing Mustang. I raise menu and face menu and look to stairs down.
A man wears creased slacks, bow tie, jacket with tails and walks from stairs. Hands are behind back. <|Host.> A woman wears a white dress with a red sash with empty holster and walks behind the host.
Mustang and others look, <|At me,> and talk.
<|Probably Richard right.>
Sweat beads on head.
One who may be Richard says, ,,The last true brood.''
I face menu and look right and look at one who may be Richard. His chin juts out and hair is cut close to head.
,,The last true what?'' says another man with a small head and wavy hair. He sits on opposite corner seat.
Everyone at table stops talking and looks at me.
Host stands by shoulder. Secret Sentry stands behind host. Host looks down, then looks left to wall and stairs up. Host looks at the fifth level above, looks and stares. <|At me.>
Secret Sentry's white dress reflects diode lights.
Woman between Mustang and man with small head and wavy hair looks at man with small head and wavy hair. She says, ,,Brood, George.''
<|She's looking at me.> I look to Mustang.
Host walks to fourth level stairs. Secret Sentry follows host.
,,Rude,'' says George.
Woman spells, ,,B R O O D.'' Her thin lips form Os.
George's forehead lowers. Wavy hairs lift forward. His eyes peer forward. ,,Oh, I thought Richard said Rude. R U D E,'' says George. <|Peering at me.>
<|Psych Injection. Setup.>
Richard sits to right, <|Of me,> says, ,,BROOD, it's the last true brood.''
<|Voice like a sweet honey peach.>
Richard stares at George. His jaw pulses. ''Because cicadas have different annual cycles there are a certain amount of cicadas born each year at the same time. This year is Brood X, the largest brood and really the only one that exists in these parts.'' His jaw relaxes, hangs, parts lips.
Server walks past. Small twenty-two caliber gun creates outline upon server's pants' pocket.
<|Server Secret Sentry?>
,,Oh,'' says George. ''That's why there all those bugs around.''
Mustang looks to Richard and smiles, says while looking toward George, ,,Have you ate chocolate covered cicadas?''
George's brow and nose bunch skin between eyebrows. ,,No!''
,,I have,'' I say.
,,Me, too,'' says Richard.
We create eye contact.
A server passes.
I say, ,,Excuse me, server.'' I look from Richard to server. I hold out open right hand. ''Dick.''
A server stops.
Server looks at hand and grabs hand with loose grip, says, ,,Ah, Hurry.'' We shake hands. The server looks, <|At me,> says, ''What do you need?''
We release grips.
I say, ,,Squab tacos. A well bourbon neat. A cup of water.''
,,Anything else?'' says Hurry. His face is expressionless, smooth, <|Almost as if sleeping,> white. <|Like a mime.>
Hurry smiles. Brow and eyes remain still. He walks to kitchen.
,,Well.'' The woman between Mustang and George smiles. ''No wonder you can eat cicadas.'' Woman looks, <|From me,> to Richard.
,,So is that how you get your order taken quick here?'' says Richard.
I say, ,,Yes, it is,'' and smile. I look to Richard. ''My name is Dick, the cicada eater.''
Richard sucks lips to teeth then releases, smiles, holds out hand. ,,Richard.''
We shake hands.
<|Soft hands.> I inhale. <|Richard's underarm smells like pine.> I smell Richard's sweat. <|Beer.>
Woman between Mustang and George extends right hand with long thin fingers.
We shake hands over table. She smiles. Dimples spot cheeks.
<|Firm shake.> I say, ,,Dick.''
,,Betty,'' says Betty. ''Nice to meet you, Dick.'' Betty sets elbows on table and leans forward with elbows on table. ''What brings you to Larry's Fajitas?''
I smile and look into Betty's eyes. ,,Usually, the faJITa.'' I wink, grin, say, ''Tonight it's the squab.''
,,FaJITas. Jit,'' says Betty. ''Like shit.''
We stare into other's eyes.
I smile. ,,Larry's FaJITa is not shit.''
Betty smiles wide.
George peers and says, ,,Bigger than your fajita.''
,,Maybe.'' I smile, wink at George.
George says, ,,How big your hands?''
I lift hand from table.
George holds open hand over table.
George and I press hands together over table.
<|Soft hands. Sweaty palm.>
''Holy shit,'' says George. His eyes are wide open. ''Your hands are big.'' His head slowly pivots up and down.
George says, ''My name is George Washington.''
A Secret Sentry busboy walks and holds tray with small plates. <|Size of palm.>
I soften the look at George's eyes. ,,My name is Dick.''
George smiles very wide.
George and I shake hands. <|Firm. Sweaty.>
Our hands part.
Forehead sweat dries.
George looks to Richard. ,,Next to Richard is Eleanor.''
Eleanor leans toward table. Her short hair fans face. She tucks black hair behind ear. ,,Hello, Dick,'' says Eleanor. She waves hand. <|Like giving oath.>
Richard stares at George, looks at me, smiles, says, ,,My wife.''
I feel. <|May've killed them...> I think. ,,Hi, Eleanor.'' I say and wink to her.
George lowers left hand with a twirl and points to Betty, says, ,,And you've met Betty.''
Richard stares at George.
<|Wears ring.> I look at Betty and wink with left eyelid, say, ,,Yes, I have had the pleasure.'' I glance at Betty. I feel and think, <|Busboy looking.>
George nods head at Mustang. ,,And across from you is Mustang. We just met him tonight. Cowboys' fan. Like Richard. So far he has been tame despite the name.'' George says. He straightens back and slides butt to back of seat.
Mustang and I reach across table and shake hands over water carafe. ,,Mustang,'' says Mustang.
,,Dick,'' I say.
<|Grip still Mustang.>
Richard looks at menu and pivots head side to side.
The square plastic chair is cold.
Betty looks to me. ,,Dick, you been here before?'' Her eyes reflect white light.
I look from George to Betty, say, ,,Yes.'' I look at Betty and look around and make eye contact with everyone, say, ''You come here often?''
Betty and Richard look at each other and pivot heads up and down and up and down. Mustang shrugs. George says, ,,No.'' Eleanor says, ,,Define often.''
I look at Eleanor and grin with left side of mouth. I lower the grin and relax the lips. I say, ,,More than twice a week.'' <|They probably don't know.>
Eleanor smiles. <|Crow's feet land on face.> She says, ,,No,'' points at carafe before Richard. ''Is the water processed? I didn't drink water last time I was here.'' Her finger nails are painted purple.
,,It's not water directly from the tap,'' says Betty. She lifts cup from table and drinks. <|Looking at me.>
<|She's got a big Adam's Apple.> I look away.
Busboy walks from table to table and lifts, <|Palm sized,> plates and sets the plates on tray.
A Secret Sentry sits on seat behind Mustang.
<|Psych injections for all?>
I sit spine neutral.
,,What do you suggest, Dick?'' says Eleanor. She glances at plastic menu on table.
,,Larry's FaJITa or squab tacos.''
,,What about the FaJITa?'' says Eleanor. ''Like jit and not he?'' She wrinkles brow and stares. ''Or are you joking?''
<|Psych Injection with writing to mind?> I stare at her stare. ,,Not too rich, spicy, big, very good. But I don't feel that hungry.''
Eleanor pulls back tight lips and extends mouth and says, ,,Hmmmmm...,'' looks at plastic menu, says, ''It's not on the menu.''
,,Trust me, ask,'' I say.
,,Is it good?'' says Betty. Her eyes scan menu.
I look at Betty. ,,Very.''
She looks, <|At me,> slowly pivots head up and down.
Richard looks at Mustang. ,,What you getting, Mustang?''
Mustang looks at plastic menu. He looks up from menu and past a single blonde hair lock loose from pony tail. ,,Maybe three rat tacos.''
<|Secret Sentry busboy looking.>
George looks at menu. Head pivots.
,,The rat good here,'' says Richard. His jaw is square, and chin is small.
<|Table not congov.>
,,Yes,'' says Mustang.
Laughter behind is.
Betty says, ,,Richard usually gets the fake beef.''
<|What time is it?>
,,Fake beef, Richard!'' Mustang smiles and opens eyelids wide to Richard, pivots head side to side.
,,I want a taste that won't change,'' says Richard.
Mustang softly laughs and smiles. ,,The sauce they put on the rat here doesn't change.''
,,I'd rather have the squab,'' I say. <|Maybe we eat to midnight?>
,,I'd rather have rat than pigeon,'' says Richard.
Eleanor looks up from menu. ,,Does it have cheese, Dick?''
,,The squab?'' I look at Eleanor's stare, say, ''It can.'' I think, <|Do they have implants?>
,,No, the Jit,'' says Eleanor louder than the talk behind.
,,It can.'' <|Do I?>
Eleanor's corners of lips twitch up to create a smile. ,,I know what I am getting.''
<|Why before midnight?>
A server wears gray suit and bow tie and light gray shirt and steps and stands by Mustang. One hand is behind back and one hand holds tray.
<|Suit tight. No gun bumps.>
Her hair is pulled back and rolled into a flat bun on head. <|Like a ratburger bun.>
The server looks around the table. Server holds the tray. Server lifts cup of bourbon from tray and sets cup by my hand and lifts cup of water from tray and sets it by bourbon. The server says, ,,My server name is Now. May I get anyone a drink?''
Eleanor raises arm. She looks at Now. ,,Actually we'd all like to order. We've been waiting.''
Now looks at Eleanor. ,,What can we get you?''
Secret Sentry busboy grabs the tray from Now's open palm and stands by Now. His pupils focus upon Mustang.
<|Checking him out?>
Eleanor's eyes scan menu's surface then look to Now. ,,I'll have the Larry's Fa-JIT-a with cheese.'' She looks at Now.
Eleanor looks at me then at the menu. ''And to drink I want a Margarita.''
Richard says, ,,You'll be in bed before midnight,'' stares at his menu.
,,Nothing's keeping me up,'' Eleanor says. She stares at Richard.
Laughter from behind covers surrounding chatter.
The laughter fades.
Now looks from Eleanor to Richard to Eleanor then smiles at Eleanor. Now says, ,,Frozen or on-the-rocks?''
People laugh, talk, whisper.
<|Midnight because no imagination.>
Eleanor looks from Richard to Now. ,,On-the-rocks,'' says Eleanor.
Secret Sentry busboy jerks head up, stares toward kitchen.
<|What's behind? Mustang no signal.>
Squab grease smoke and hot sauce fume from Now.
Four people sitting around table stand and step from table and step behind Betty then Mustang.
Now looks at Richard. ,,And you, sir?''
Four people walk behind Now and Secret Sentry busboy.
I drink water.
The water wets dry mouth and swollen tongue.
Richard clears throat, says, ,,I'll have the pseudobeef tacos and a rat burrito.'' He looks up at Mustang. He turns over the plastic menu and looks at menu and indexes. ''I'll have this beer,'' he says. He lifts menu and places finger upon beer column.
Now looks at menu, mumbles then says, ,,Thank you, sir.''
<|I am a puppet.>
Four people walk down the stairs to level two. Two people remain at table behind George.
Secret Sentry busboy stacks glasses and lifts plates from table behind Mustang, Betty, George and puts plates on tray.
Now looks at me. ''Your order will be here soon.''
I look to Now. ,,Good, thanks for letting me know.''
Now looks at Mustang.
I feel and think, <|We are the puppets.>
Mustang scans plastic menu. His forearms fold on bottom of plastic menu.
Four people step by Now and behind Mustang and Betty and sit and slide over seats and under table.
Now says, ,,And you?''
I grab cup of bourbon. I hold cup under nose. I inhale.
There is no oak smell.
I sip bourbon. <|Sour. Taste like a hickory stick.> I swallow. <|Well.>
The Secret Sentry busboy lifts tray and walks by Mustang, Now, me.
,,Three rat tacos,'' says Mustang. He looks at Now. ''I will be drinking water.''
,,I'm not ready,'' says Betty and points index finger at George.
Now smiles, says, ,,Yes,'' looks to George. ''And you, sir?''
George's face is bunched from brow to cheek. Flesh folds spread wrinkles. His face relaxes and wrinkles fade. He says, ,,Will have fajitas with pseudobeef and a frozen Margarita.''
Now says, ,,On its way.''
Betty sits in seat and slides butt, legs and body toward Now. She taps on menu's wine and beer list. She softly shakes head side to side, looks to Now. Betty says giving menu to Now, ,,Fa-JIT-a,'' looks to Now. ''And a shot of your best tequila.''
Richard looks at Betty, and Betty looks at Richard.
,,Boozer,'' says George.
,,It's only work.'' Betty smiles.
Now looks at my cup of water.
''Oh!'' says Betty. ''Some mealworms.''
,,We're out of larva,'' says Now.
Betty lifts nose and lowers brow creating wrinkles. ,,Okay, nothing else then.''
The Secret Sentry busboy lifts tray with large dish above head, and he lifts another tray with small dishes and cups above head.
Now gathers menus and looks at me, says, ,,More water, sir?''
I look to empty cup then Now. ,,Maybe.''
Now shrugs and walks between tables.
Betty says, ,,You can have some of ours, Dick. We never drink all.''
,,Thank you for the offer, Betty.''
Richard looks at Betty.
Betty looks and peers at Richard.
I grab cup of bourbon.
Betty's face softens. She looks to Richard then to me. ,,No ice.''
,,If it should be in the cup then it would be in the bottle,'' I say without breaking eye contact with Betty.
Betty smiles, winks.
I lift cup of bourbon to nose.
I inhale faint fumes of fermented corn and rye with a trace of faded oak, think, <|Barrel too old?>
Five people by George slide from booth seat and table.
George says, ,,So what do chocolate cicadas taste like, Dick?''
,,Chocolate.'' I drink bourbon, swallow. ''The cicada is a vehicle for the chocolate. Crunchy. About right, Richard?''
,,Yup,'' says Richard.
Five people from booth walk behind George, Betty, Mustang to stairs. All wear empty hip holsters. ,,Excuse me,'' says a person from the booth. He looks down at Mustang.
George says, ,,Which are the best?''
,,Yup,'' says Richard.
George looks at Richard. ,,You two are disgusting.'' Then he looks at me. ''I hate crunchy insects.''
Betty flips her hair. ,,Dick, how's the well bourbon here.''
Betty and I create eye contact.
,,Tastes like well water,'' I say with smile. ''Too...'' I lift cup and drink bourbon. ''Too nothing.''
I taste faded old oak barrel perfume.
Betty licks lips. ,,Can I taste?''
I feel and think, <|Congov.> I extend arm and cup to Betty. ,,Use the cup or I can pour-''
Betty takes the bourbon cup and drinks.
Betty's tongue and mouth make a smacking sound. She swallows. ,,Where's the...'' Betty sets whiskey cup on table near my open hand. ''I don't know.''
I smile. ,,I think the bottom of the well.'' I lift carafe, say, ''Water?'' look from eyes, to eyes, to eyes.
Betty points to her cup.
I pour water.
Betty smiles, drinks water.
I look around table.
Eleanor shakes head up and down.
I pour water into Eleanor's cup.
,,Thank you, Dick,'' Eleanor says. She looks away, <|From me,> says, ''That's fast service.''
I pour water into my cup.
Betty smiles. ,,It's still whiskey.'' And I set carafe upon table.
I say, ,,It is still whiskey.'' I drink whiskey and smile.
Now steps from behind and stands by table between Mustang and me. Now sets tray with glass and plastic cups on table's center.
Eleanor looks at a stem cocktail glass's rim covered with salt.
Betty takes the shot glass filled with tequila, drinks the shot of tequila and sets shot glass on tray and stares, <|At me.> She smacks lips open. Her face tenses then shivers a release.
Richard grabs plastic beer mug and sets it before him.
George grabs a stem cocktail glass filled with yellow slush and sets the stem cocktail glass with salt rim afore Eleanor.
Secret Sentry busboy appears behind Now and gets the tray.
I take the cup of water, drink the water and set the cup to my right.
Now says, ,,Anything else?''
Betty raises two fingers. <|Making peace.> She says, ,,Two cups of your most expensive scotch. Neat.''
,,I'm not paying for those,'' says George. George licks slush with tongue tip.
Betty looks to George. ,,Neither am I.'' She smiles wide and shows teeth.
<|Maybe everyone working me?>
Now walks from view.
Betty says, ''So what do you like to do, Dick?''
I look to Betty and say, ,,Dance.'' I look at Betty to cup of water. I grab cup of water. ''You dance?''
Betty smiles and rhythmically sways head. ,,Dance, too.''
Secret Sentry busboy lifts palm-sized plates from the booth by George.
Five people walk behind George then Betty then Mustang then to stairs to level two.
I feel and think, <|Too complex for Psych Injection.>
Betty and I stare.
Betty says, ''How often?''
,,Every Saturday night.''
Now appears from behind, walks by Mustang to Betty. Now sets two lowball glasses on table.
I stare at Betty. ''Actually, it is every Sunday morning.''
Betty smiles and leans and lifts one lowball glass from table and reaches and sets lowball glass by my palm. She takes the other lowball glass and raises it.
Deep peat fumes float smoke.
I point index finger to glass cup. ''For me?''
Betty smiles and pivots head up and down.
''Thanks.'' I lift lowball glass.
We say, ,,Cheers.''
Our glass cups ring.
<|How old is Betty?> ,,If you ever want to go to Always, I can get people in for free.'' <|Mid-twenties?> ''The cover should cover the drink.'' I stare at Betty. ''Some of the drink. Because I can't afford this.'' I lift lowball glass.
Betty fills mouth and swallows, coughs, covers mouth, waves hand before mouth, says, ,,Whew that's good.''
I raise lowball glass to nose. <|George early thirties.>
Oak fumes. Deep peat fills nose and head. It feels to fume from eyes.
I smile and exhale the peat. ,,Good.'' Smooth alcohol fumes fill the body and mind. ''That's really good.'' Eyes water.
Richard smiles and throws arm around my neck and shoulders. Richard stretches and leans and reaches to get his arm over left shoulder, says, ,,Afford. Neither can she.'' He points finger at Betty. ''That's what companies are for.'' He leans toward the lowball glass. His nose is by rim. He sniffs.
<|Acting or uncomfortable.>
Six people walk behind Mustang, Betty, George to booth.
<|Trying to dominate.> ,,Do you want a sip?'' I smile.
Richard leans back. His hand taps shoulder.
I wink and put my arm around Richard and rest elbow on his right shoulder.
Richard lowers his arm. It swings to his side.
I flex muscles and squeeze Richard. I say and look at Richard, ''You like to dance?''
Richard stares and says, ,,Only with you buddy.'' He peers.
Six people slide selves into a booth.
Mouth fills with saliva.
I say, ,,Are you sure you don't want a sip, Richard?'' I tip lowball glass to Richard.
Richard pivots head side to side.
I look to George and say, ''George, do you believe Richard is uncomfortable?''
George grins with right side of mouth. He opens right side of mouth and says, ,,Yeah.''
I turn head and stare at Richard. ,,Sorry, Richard.''
Richard turns, looks up. He smiles. ,,That's okay dude.''
<|Congov.> I leave arm around Richard. <|Implant people.> I peer to Richard. ,,You dance.''
,,I can,'' says Richard looking at beer.
I sip scotch.
The peat is deep and smooth. Smoke flows in and out nose. Peat slides along tongue and gums and through throat. The stomach warms. It feels to glow. The oak and malt fume from the baked peat.
I swallow. ,,Peat.''
Heart pumps. The blood rushes to feel and taste. Fluid smoke, deep and smooth, flows from mouth down throat to stomach.
I exhale slow and inhale. ''Thank you, Betty.''
Eleanor sips margarita from salted rim.
I slide arm from Richard's shoulder then from Richard's neck. Hand grabs cup of water. I look at Mustang.
Mustang stares everywhere.
Betty burps and waves hand before mouth. ,,That's strong.''
,,That smells,'' says George.
,,Peaty.'' I look at Betty. ''How was the tequila?''
,,Not as good as the scotch,'' says Betty.
Mustang taps right index finger twice. Mustang covers eyes with eyelids.
<|Two dark spectacles behind,> I think. I say and look from Eleanor to George, ,,How are the Margaritas?''
Eleanor makes the sound, ,,Eh.''
George says, ,,Frosty!'' with a smile and lowers head to suck on straw.
I say and look from Betty to Richard, ,,How's this beer?''
,,Shitty.'' Richard clears throat, swallows.
Fat and cheese fumes fill air.
Betty looks beyond me, says, ,,Here's the food.''
,,That was fast,'' says Eleanor. She leans forward and looks to Now.
Richard, slouched and relaxed, pivots head to Eleanor and says, ,,Now is wearing a microphone that transmits to a computer during.'' Richard looks to Now then back to Eleanor. ''The many cooks makes it an order.''
,,A cooking machine,'' I say. I lean back.
Now lowers three palm-sized plates to table between hands. An unrolled squab taco is on each plate.
I look up at Now. ''Thank you.''
I feel and think, <|Hungry.>
Now sets three palm-sized plates with small tacos and a palm-sized plate with a burrito before Richard.
Richard looks to Now. ,,Yeah, thanks.''
Now walks between Richard and Eleanor. Now grabs a white plate.
The white plate is the size of three palm-sized plates. A four inch wide, six inch long, burrito rests on the white plate.
Now leans between Richard and Eleanor and sets white plate before Eleanor.
Eleanor looks down to plate and looks to Now. ,,Thank you, Now...'' She looks to the faJITa. ''That looks very pretty.''
,,Thank you,'' says Now.
Betty looks from faJITa. <|To me.> ,,That's big.'' Betty looks at the faJITa and looks to George and says, ''We should have shared one.''
,,That's very big, Dick,'' says George and winks. <|At me.>
Now walks and stands by George.
<|Stupid me.> I pivot head side to side. <|Stupid people.> A low laughter rumbles from throat.
George smiles. His pupils follow three palm-sized plates with a fajita lifted by Now from tray and to table.
Now sets plate with Larry's FaJITa before Betty. Then she leans and sets three palm-sized plates of rat tacos before Mustang.
,,Thank you,'' says Mustang.
I smell body odor. <|Need shower.>
Betty sips scotch and exhales peat. ,,Yeah, thanks, Now.''
Stomach burns from the core to surface. Mouth fills with saliva.
<|Food.> I stare at a flour tortilla open under lettuce, tomatoes and steaming squab.
George rolls a fajita with palm into a cylinder, grabs cylinder and bites half of it in mouth. Richard lifts a taco with both hands. One hand holds base. One hand pinches end. Eleanor sips her Margarita and looks at Larry's FaJITa. Betty shoves Larry's FaJITa in mouth while holding eye contact with me.
<|She has a small mouth.> ,,Impressive.'' I smile.
Betty grins with Larry's FaJITa shoved in mouth. She takes a big bite and severs thick meat slice. She pulls Larry's FaJITa away from mouth. She closes eyes and chews.
Eleanor stares at her Larry's FaJITa and guides fork to play with melted cheese.
George closes an eyelid and looks at his neatly rolled fajita dripping juice and squeezes it between thumb and forefinger.
Betty opens eyes to me.
We hold eye contact.
I grab lowball glass. Rim hovers below nose.
Fumes flow into pores and veins, throat then lungs. Warmth spreads with whisky flow over tongue and into body.
''Good,'' I say.
Richard bites and chews.
Betty chews and pivots her head up and down, up and down. ,,Yes,'' says Betty between chews. She points to Larry's FaJITa then swallows. ''Needs salt though.''
<|What time is it?> I set lowball glass on table, grab the salt dish and hold the salt dish to a smiling Betty. ,,Salt, Betty?''
,,Thank you.'' She pinches salt mound and sprinkles salt over Larry's FaJITa. She bites.
I set the salt down. I bite taco.
The squab is fatty and greasy. <|Food.>
Richard chews and clears his throat, swallows.
Eleanor pokes faJITa with fork. She cuts faJITa with knife.
Betty swallows. ''How's the squab?''
I chew, pivot head up and down.
Secret Sentries stand from seats, throw napkins on table top, walk by Mustang and to the stairs to the second level.
I chew. I swallow, look at Betty. ,,Good, but tastes old and wild to be squab.''
George looks, <|At me,> and slides rolled fajita half way into mouth, tightens lips around fajita and bites it. Fajita juices flows from his lip to chin, forms a drip and drips a drop.
Secret Sentry busboy stacks small plates on table behind George.
Richard says between chews, ,,So where you work, Dick?''
,,Up the street.''
,,Service.'' He chews.
,,Yes and you.'' I put taco's last bite in mouth and chew.
Richard swallows and cleans teeth with tongue making a suction sound. ,,K Street.''
<|Then why me?> I chew, look to Richard and pivot head up and down and up and down. <|A test.>
George looks to me. ,,Betty and Richard work together. Eleanor is a lawyer.'' He points part of fajita to self. ''I get to lobby.'' He swallows. George points finger at Mustang and moves fajita in cheek to speak. ''Mustang contracts.''
Richard chews and peers at George.
I chew. <|A game?>
Eleanor pokes fork into faJITa and cuts slice, says, ,,What type of service?''
I hold up index finger and chew.
Eleanor, Betty, George look, <|At me.> Mustang looks to food then forward. Richard drinks beer.
I swallow, lower index finger and say, ,,Detection.''
,,Digital,'' says Richard. He looks down at his tacos, lifts another taco.
,,Yes.'' <|Capped. Injection. Reeled. Scanned. Recorded.>
,,Wow,'' says George between chewing small food chunks.
I shrug and bite taco.
''I mean.'' George swallows, clears mouth with tongue. ''I mean it has to be more exiting than my job.'' He drinks frosty margarita.
Betty looks at Larry's FaJITa and then to George. ,,You create excitement.'' She sips scotch.
,,Hummph,'' says Richard. He bites half a taco and chews.
,,For others,'' says George. George looks at the plates, one empty. ''I need some excitement.''
Richard chews and says, ,,Give me excitement.'' He gags, coughs, swallows. ''Give me those tickets for tomorrow's game.''
I chew. <|Why?>
Mustang looks to Richard. ,,Go, Cowboys.''
Richard looks to George then Mustang. He points his finger at his chest. ,,I could be going.''
,,You didn't tell me that,'' says Mustang.
George looks from plate to Richard, shrugs. ,,Don't know yet. Senator hasn't decided.''
<|Dancing.> I chew.
Richard looks to Mustang. ,,If not live, then on the vision.'' Richard smiles.
Betty looks down to faJITa and pivots head side to side, says, ,,I don't want to get fat.''
Two people stand and step from table, set their napkins on table and walk to stairs.
I swallow. ,,George, why don't you go? Football is exciting.''
George rolls eyes in sockets. ,,Yeah...exciting as I sit and watch.''
Secret Sentry busboy with tray appears and clears small plates and cups from table top.
I drink scotch.
The heat, the fumes, the smoke vapors flow.
Eleanor sips her Margarita with eyelids covering eyes.
,,Dancing,'' I say, set lowball glass on table. ''Dancing is exciting.''
George's face relaxes. He smiles and winks. ,,Are you going tonight?''
I slowly nod head. ,,Yes, I am.''
George says, ,,Can you get me in for free?''
Betty looks to George. ,,I'm the one who has to expense the scotch.''
I eat squab taco, chew, pivot head up and down.
George looks to Betty. ,,Like you need to be back to work, come with.''
Betty looks to Richard.
Richard clears throat, swallows, drinks beer, swallows, says, ,,Whatever,'' sets cup on table and burps, exhales.
Betty looks, <|At me.> ,,Maybe I will go?''
I swallow and look at Eleanor. ,,What about you Eleanor?'' I lift last squab taco and bite half.
,,I don't know,'' she says as she saws with knife another Larry's FaJITa slice.
Richard lifts a taco. ,,I'll go if Eleanor goes.'' He shoves the taco in mouth. Mouth is full. He chews slow.
George smiles wide. ,,This is exciting.'' He looks to Eleanor. ''You and Richard should come. I heard from my clients that Always is AWEsome.''
Eleanor shrugs and slides Larry's FaJITa slice in mouth, chews.
Two people sit before table to right.
I swallow, bite food, eat.
Now walks past toward booth of five.
George says, ''What about you, Mustang? You want to dance?'' George bounces head and raises and lowers shoulders, looks, <|To me.> ''Could you get us all in?''
I chew and nod head.
Mustang looks at George then to food, says, ,,Maybe later?''
,,Yeah, maybe not tonight,'' says Richard looking at Mustang then Betty. ''There is the game.''
Mustang and I glance a stare. Mustang closes eyes and inhales then opens eyes and exhales.
Betty says, ,,It's not like we have to be at work. We can just tell them we were doing research for whatever.''
Richard chews, makes a hum sound, swallows and cleans teeth with tongue. ,,We have something to do,'' and makes a suction sound, clears throat, swallows. Head pivots side to side. ''Dancing.'' He lifts the other taco and shoves it in mouth.
Betty looks to George then me. ,,Well, if Richard is going to be a bore. I can't go.''
I swallow. I lift a squab taco, guide it to mouth, bite and chew.
Betty begins to frown, says, ''I'm full.'' She looks at the remaining two-thirds of her Larry's FaJITa.
,,You can go,'' says Richard. Food bits fly from mouth.
George looks to Betty. ,,Yeah, me, too.'' He smiles, looks, <|At me.> ''I can go.''
,,Dick,'' says Betty.
Laughter erupts from behind.
I swallow. ,,Yes,'' I say.
,,Can we go?'' says Betty.
Richard pivots head side to side, chin follows. He says a food muffled, ,,Line's probably too long,'' between chunks of chewed taco.
I loosen tie. ,,Line?'' ...Look to George.
George smiles, says, ,,Line into Always.'' George nods head up and down. ''I've seen it.''
I smile. ,,I know the knock to enter through an exit.'' I bite and chew.
Betty says, ,,Cool.''
Richard burps and looks to Betty. ,,Eleanor?''
,,I don't know,'' says Eleanor.
George looks at Eleanor, says, ,,Lets go.''
Eleanor looks, <|To me,> says something during very loud laughter.
I swallow. ,,I did not hear you, Eleanor.''
Eleanor leans afore Richard. ,,What's it like?''
,,Fun,'' I say. I wink at Eleanor.
George burps above the dinner talk, smiles, says, ,,It's gotta be fun,'' waves hand before mouth. ''Why would people go?''
Mustang looks at Eleanor. ,,I've been. It's fun.''
,,We have to go,'' says Betty. She lifts lowball glass and tips it toward mouth. The last scotch drop drips into mouth.
Richard looks to Betty and slowly shakes head side to side. ,,Yeah, looks like Betty needs another drink before getting back to work.''
George leans elbows on table and says to Richard, ,,Shit, you're on government contract anyway.''
They share a laugh. Eleanor lets loose a soft chuckle. They wipe mouths and straighten collars.
Eleanor says, ,,I don't care for dance music.''
Mustang wipes mouth with napkin and lowers fork holding a slice of steak and onion, says, ,,Either did I.'' Mustang smiles. ''Until I went to Always.''
Eleanor looks to Richard, then to George, then Betty and then Mustang. ,,Where's it at?''
,,Beyond the Circle following Conn,'' I say. I put last of food in mouth and chew.
,,Sort of near your guys work,'' says George.
Now appears at left holding tray and walks by Mustang, Betty, George.
Eleanor looks to Richard then Betty.
Richard rubs nose with index finger, says, ,,Is it near K Street?''
I chew, swallow. ,,Yes. Well, closer than here.''
,,If it's closer to K Street,'' says Richard, looks to Eleanor. ''Up to you, Eleanor.'' Richard looks to Betty. ''We're in the area. We'll get paid.'' He smiles, wedges finger nail between teeth, wiggles finger and finger nail.
Eleanor shrugs shoulders. ,,I'll decide when I am outside.'' She looks to Richard. ''I am ready dear.''
Richard pulls loose rat meat.
,,If you don't.'' I wink to Eleanor, say, ''More room to dance,'' smile.
Eleanor tries to wink, but closes both eyes, smiles, looks to stairs, exhales with sigh. ,,Richard, I am about ready to go.''
Richard sucks on teeth, looks at plate then to Eleanor. ,,When we're ready.''
I look to Betty. I drink the last scotch. Body calms. Heart beat slows. Breath fills the lungs. Lungs exhale the warm from stomach.
Betty burps and waves palm afore mouth. ,,Scotch.'' She smiles and looks at George. ''Excuse me.''
I make eye contact with Betty. ,,Thank you, Betty.''
Betty smiles. Her nose seems to wiggle.
George pulls cowboy hat from under table and jams it on top of head, adjusts brim, tips hat to Eleanor.
Eleanor lifts and rests shoulder strap of small rod shaped purse on shoulder, looks at Richard.
Richard glances at Betty.
Richard raises and snaps fingers. ,,Now, check.''
,,It's a bill, Richard,'' says Betty.
I look to Mustang and wink with left eyelid and look to Betty and wink with right eyelid, say, ,,Always, Betty?''
We look at each other's eyes, and she says, ,,Always.''
Now walks from booth, gives Secret Sentry busboy a tray, takes a towel from Secret Sentry busboy and slides palm-sized pad from behind back and butt, holds the towel and the palm-sized pad before Richard.
Richard says, ,,Us four,'' while guiding finger to wiggle from Betty to George to Eleanor and back.
Now clicks a button.
Richard wipes hands on towel and presses palm upon palm-sized pad.
A green light flashes.
,,I'm ready, too,'' I say.
Now holds towel and palm-sized pad afore and presses a button.
I wipe hands on towel and press palm to palm-sized pad.
A green light flashes.
Now looks to Mustang.
Mustang chews, pivots head side to side to side, points finger at food.
Betty points to towel. ,,Can I?''
Now looks at Secret Sentry, and she gives towel to Betty then she walks way.
Betty wipes hands and gives the towel to George.
,,What is the travel time from Larry's Fajitas in coach to club Always?'' Richard asks.
George wipes hands with towel and says, ,,Up to ten minutes sound about right, Dick.''
,,Depends on which way we go, but yes, ten minutes is about right,'' I say.
George gives the towel to Eleanor. He stands, looks down at his crotch, sticks thumbs between pants and belt by belt buckle edges. He then lifts the belt buckle and looks, <|At me.> He says, ,,Time and directions in the belt buckle.''
I look at belt buckle. I smile, look to George, say, ,,What else can it do?'' And Eleanor wipes hands with towel.
George looks, <|At me,> thrusts his crotch. George says, ,,Send and receive sound and plays two dimensional movies, but I have to remove the bull rider to view.''
I look to Betty. ,,I like your husband, Betty.''
,,Most men do,'' says Betty. She looks at George. ''Are we ready to go stud?''
Secret Sentry busboy looks at Eleanor.
George grabs belt and shakes belt and pants' waist, says, ,,This stud is ready to ride.''
Richard looks to George and smiles, pivots head side to side. He looks at Eleanor.
Everyone at table but Mustang stands.
Betty waves a hand at Mustang. ,,Nice to meet you, Mustang.''
Mustang chews food and nods.
Richard clenches hand to fist and raises fist. ,,Go, Cowboys.''
Mustang raises a fist and nods and chews.
Secret Sentry busboy peers at Eleanor.
Betty walks between the tables to the stairs. Richard follows behind Betty. Eleanor walks behind Richard and clutches purse and gives towel to busboy. George tips hat to me, says, ,,Shall we, partner.'' I smile, say, ,,Yes.'' I look to Mustang, pivot and walk behind Eleanor. George steps around chairs and walks behind.
We walk single file between a two top and six top, a four top and a four top and by water and waiter toward the stairs down.
Hips hit chair backs and heads.
A few people look back.
We pass by six top near stairs seating four Secret Sentry. We descend stairs.
People fill level two tables. Congov walk between tables and look with dark spectacles at each person. The bar and waiting area is full. Ten congov with dark spectacles wander shoulder to shoulder, tip drinks and knock shoulders and turn heads to point dark spectacles at people's heads.
A blacksuit congov column walk up the stairs.
Everyone stops. Richard bumps Betty. Eleanor bumps Richard. I touch Eleanor.
I stand behind Eleanor, say, ''Some one have a cattle prod.''
Richard pivots head back, says, ,,You sure you don't have one.''
We stand on staircase's middle between third and second level. I hear Betty say, ,,There must be something going on.'' Betty pushes Richard's chest to side and looks back, <|At me,> then waves to the side.
I pivot waist and lean back over rail, expose George to Betty. The balance waves and flows then focuses. <|Whiskey.>
''George,'' says Betty.
,,Yes, Betty,'' says George.
Two congov push past and fill the gap between Richard and Eleanor.
Congov climb stairs.
I turn back to rail.
Betty says, ,,George, can you see if we can go out the back.''
<|No.> I think.
,,Back.'' George says, ''What back?''
Congov nudges shoulders.
I hear a huff from Betty.
Congov step past.
Betty stares at congov. She steps down and wedges between people on stairs and says, ,,Move, move, move...''
People stare and try to push one side to the other side.
I step past.
More blacksuit congov climb stairs.
The staircase is full.
We walk from level two to level one.
Body odor and grease smoke are.
,,Hey, watch the drink!'' someone yells.
A click clicks.
Someone falls to ground near Richard. Whiskey spills across the floor.
I step by fallen man's head.
A congov looks at the fallen man near whiskey spreading over floor.
Two congov lift the man and fasten cuffs around the man's wrists.
I shuffle forward.
Betty wedges through people and tips whiskey cups.
The exit doors are held open by two congov.
Congressmen guide near naked pages through entrance scan toward the bar.
Two congov stand by entrance.