Friday, September 18, 2009

ZAP Chapter 7 by Mark Adair

The longer I drove, the more I thought about my life. The more I thought about my life, the greater my resolve to make something of my second chance. By the time I drove into the lot next to my apartment, I had come to terms with several important issues in my life.

First of all, the days of feeling sorry for myself…history. I’d wasted enough time and energy rerunning old episodes of my life tragedies. I had actually grown tired of feeling sorry for myself.

Which led me to my second resolution: my “wife” had made exactly two calls to me each year for the past three years. Each conversation started with a description of her happy life highlighted by her relationship with roommate/boyfriend/love-of-her-life, Ryan. And it ended with “Scotty, please sign the papers.” Except for the last phone call about 6 months ago…it ended with “Scotty, I’m pregnant. Ryan and I are having a baby. Please sign the fucking papers.” Time to sign the papers…even if it forced me to admit I’m alone, and have been for some time.

The third and most complicated issue remained. What to do with Kelly…or how to do with Kelly…or would I even get a shot with her. I didn’t know how to fix the mess I’d made, especially considering that I hadn’t treated her that well at any point in our relationship. Running though several options during my several hour trip, I picked the one where she had already left town, for good, as the most likely scenario. All I wanted, all I could ask for: one chance to make it right…to do the right thing.

Sitting in the parking lot, I listened to the end of the Beach Boys singing Don’t Worry Baby. I tossed my bag and the care package from Mrs. Plant in my apartment. Grabbing the divorce papers, I U-turned, and headed toward the post office. After completing that errand, I walked toward the pub, thinking about what I should say to Kelly. Every speech I conjured up and practiced on the walk over, sounded lame. By the time I reached the front door, I’d lost a good chunk of my resolve. My palms began to sweat and I hesitated before finally grabbing the handle.

“Hey Mac!”

“Hi Jake. How’s it going?”

“Good. You okay? Seem a bit preoccupied.” He interjected a short laugh and then added, “Even more than usual.”

“Yeah, well, you know me. Never met an issue I couldn’t overthink. It’s definitely been an eventful couple a days. You seen Kelly lately?”

“Yeah, she’s here.” He pointed toward the back, right side. “I think I saw her over there in a booth talking to some older dude.”

“Thanks, man. I gotta take care of something. Catch you later.”

I walked over to the booth, my heart pounding.

“Hi Kelly. Timmy, how are you?”

She didn’t look up. Timmy stood up, reached out his hand, and returned my greeting. Responding to his invitation, I sat down next to him.

I turned to him and asked, “How long have you been here?”

“Just arrived, old boy. No reason to be here without your presence in the neighborhood, right? After all, Mr. MacDonald, you and I have an ongoing business transaction to discuss.”

“I don’t even want to know how the hell you knew I would be getting back at this particular moment, but I would like to talk with you in private about our ‘ongoing business transaction’. Kelly, would you mind?”

“If I was talking to you, Mr. MacDonald, which I’m not, I would say something like, ‘Because I’m the only one here with a truly vested interest in the outcome of this bullshit you call an ongoing business transaction, I must insist on staying right the hell where I am…asshole!’”

A smile almost escaped before I caught it and put it back in its cage. “Fair enough. Timmy let’s get down to it. Where do we stand?”

“I must inform you that your past unreasonable position on the topic has cost you any negotiating position whatsoever. As they say, the fuse has quite grown short. This will be my final offer and the terms are not negotiable. Do we understand one another?”

I nodded. His ominous tone gave me a strange feeling in my stomach.

“The terms are as follows: within one week, you will deliver to our online account the sum of One-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds. If you choose to—“

“Are you fucking serious? Where in the world would I get one-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds?”

Kelly glanced up at me.

“Mr. MacDonald, the responsibility for your current predicament rests solely on your shoulders. You summarily dismissed all of our fair and reasonable past offers. Now, ahem, the gloves are off.”

“Or what?” I yelled at him.

“Of course, right you are to ask. Yes, well, the repercussions for refusing this offer will be a permanent ZAP for your girlfriend.”

At the same time, Kelly and I both refuted his claim about our relationship status. Then she mumbled, “We finally agree on something.”

Rubbing my forehead, I barked out, “Dammit Timmy! Why do you have to be so damn cryptic about everything? What does that mean exactly?”

“Mr. MacDonald, ZAP doesn’t work in a pre-configured, manufacturing methodology, i.e., there is no ‘exactly’. Basically, it consists of three levels of actuality potential reduction tailored to the personality, physiology, and DNA of the subject. The most complete, and the only irreversible, level causes a permanent and debilitating change in the patient. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in that dire and wholly unpleasant situation.”

“The patient!” Kelly and I yelled in unison.

“Right. Sorry. Part of our internal vernacular, as it were. Ms. Fairchild, my apologies.”

“Thanks Timmy. As usual, you’re as clear as the San Francisco fog.”

“Certainly, Mr. MacDonald, you understand permanent and debilitating. At any rate, a preview of that experience will be afforded you upon my exit.”

Kelly took off across the table and reached Timmy’s neck with her hands before he could defend himself. I knew I should break them up but I had wanted to the same thing. So I just sat there, watching Timmy suffer. His face became redder by the second and his eyes started to glaze over. When it occurred to me that killing him would eliminate the only possible way out of this for Kelly, I intervened.

“Kelly.” I said in a cool, calm voice. She tightened her grip. My smile slipped out and then I tried again with a little more oomph, “Kelly!” Nothing. She started shaking. I reached up and with all my strength I pried loose her hands from around his throat. The red marks from her grip looked like they would be there for a few weeks.

She stood there shaking from head to toe. I came over to her side and started to put my arms around her. In between her glare and the list of cuss words that she spewed at me, I got the message that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

I returned from the bar with three stouts, a bottle of Scotch, and three shot glasses.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I need a drink…or two or three. Anyone join me?”

Timmy continued to hold his neck in his hands while he managed a slight nod. Kelly had cooled off a bit – instead of a ten on the five point pissed off scale, I’d say maybe a 9.7. I poured both of them shots and handed them out. He whispered a ‘thank you’ and picked up his glass. She picked hers up, nodded her head, and then threw it right in my face. Reaching across the table, she grabbed the bottle and poured herself another shot, which she proceeded to swallow down in one gulp. She repeated the procedure two more times and then started on her beer.

Picking up a couple of nearby napkins, I tried to remove the stinging alcohol from my eyes. When my vision cleared, I glanced over at her. And I started laughing.

“What the hell are you laughing about?”

“Yes, I must agree with Ms. Fairchild. I fail to see the humor in this.”

I tried but I couldn’t stop laughing. It might have been the whole ridiculous situation or the fire in Kelly’s eyes or the red marks on Timmy’s neck or just stress, but I laughed like I’d never laughed before. The entire pub customer population turned in my direction. Most of them had never heard me laugh before at all, much less like this.

“Cut it out, Scotty!”

“Sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”

Timmy cleared his now raspy voice. “Mr. MacDonald…ahem…I have other appointments to make. I will return in ninety-six hours. That is exactly four days from right now. You have that time to come up with the money. I will return, planning to transfer the funds. If you’re unprepared to do so, our conversation will be over, and Ms. Fairchild will suffer the consequences.”

“I understand.”

Standing up, he put his fedora on, bid us good day, and marched out the exit.

“I’m sorry, Kelly. I should have done something before. I’ll figure out something. I don’t know how, but I will figure out something.”

She acted like she might say something so I paused.

“What is it, Kelly?” Silence. “Just say it! I know I fucked up. I’m sure it doesn’t matter, but I did sign the divorce papers. It’s over.”

She moved toward me, opened her mouth, and then closed it again.

“I get it. You have nothing to say to me. I certainly don’t blame you. I’ve been a real shit. I just have one last thing to say then I’ll shut up.”

Her eyes darted around like she wanted to find a place to be, anywhere other than with me.

“Kelly, I…it’s just that…I’ve never met anyone like you. You don’t take shit off of anyone. I love the way you think…the way your minds works…your sense of humor…how smart you are…and you’re beautiful…like the moon and the stars beautiful. And I love the sound of your voice, even when you’re yelling at me.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Fine. I just want you to know one thing.” Pausing to clear my throat, I finished what I had come to say.

“I love you.”

The fidgeting ended. Her eyes met mine and for a few seconds I thought maybe, just maybe I might have a chance with her.

She grabbed a clean napkin from the table, pulled out the pen from her shirt, and scribbled several words. Standing up, she threw the napkin at me, and ran to the back of the pub.

It swirled around and then fell face down right in front of me. I knew it had the verdict on it and I felt pretty confident that the verdict wouldn’t be what I wanted. I finished off another shot of Scotch while I moved the napkin around with my index finger.

Better to know than not, I decided. I turned it over.

you idiot
something’s wrong
feels like someone yanked out my vocal chords
I can’t speak


Jordan said...

fantastic! i was wondering when the ZAP story would come back into play, and this chapter brought things together nicely!

Mark Adair said...

thanks Jordan...glad you enjoyed it...