(excerpted from Gristle Springs, a novel of intrigue)
“What say we sail up to the fueling depot at Crouton-upon-Hudson, stock up on diesel, and engine our way into one of the wider inlets on the opposite side of the river?”
Inspector Weymouth Smith puffed on a stick of some of the strongest ganja I’d ever smoked, casting his line for the fifth time that morning, I suspected for the sheer fun of it, as we hadn’t caught so much as a minnow. Sailing, I’ve discovered, almost always involves so much scrambling about and fussing with ropes and pulleys and sails and other such complicated paraphernalia that only the staunchest sailor, and one who enjoys activity for its own sake, doesn’t tire of it long before the conclusion of any protracted venture upon water.
Smith wasn’t that type of sailor, and I certainly wasn’t, either. We were both stoned out of our gourds and only marginally interested in fishing, much less continuing to fool about with elaborate knots and furling and unfurling of sails and what have you.
We had arranged to rendezvous at a marina bar in Tarrytown, a bedazzling slough called the Blind Eye, on the previous evening. The Blind Eye featured an abundance of alluring females, if you weren’t too particular, many of them barely dressed, and an equal, if not outnumbering, contingent of seafaring n’er-do-anythings, ranging in age from the Young and Loud to more sedimented, middle-aged Horny Geezers Pickled in Alcohol, with many repugnantly capacious aquariums swarming with varicolored fish, wriggling aquatic flora and fancifully perforated, miniature undersea architecture, a Megadeath tribute band caterwauling on an elevated stage amid a fantasia of dry ice fog and Christmas tree icicles draped athwart its deafening instruments, ceiling fishnets entangled in blinking colored lights, plastic starfish, a giant sequined jellyfish, paper-mâché anchors, figureheads, day-glo mermaids, and a half-eaten hoagie cast in polyurethane.
I’d found Smith nursing an unnaturally large gin and tonic—at the Blind Eye, mixed beverages were served in glass vases appropriate for calla lillies—and he’d apparently nursed more than one by the time I arrived, as I found him gloss-eyed, slack-mouthed, a Burberry trench coat slung casually over one arm of a vermillion sports jacket, ensorcelled by a set of jailbait bosoms stuffed into a flame-red tank top tight enough to choke Seabiscuit. The breasts came attached to a short, shaggy-haired female wearing green lipstick and black nail polish who introduced herself as Myra, a native, she claimed, of Poughkeepsie.
Myra’s shrewd yet stupid, mica-blue eyes, accented by flamelike shoots of blue and yellow glitter, roved all over my person, lingering, pointedly, on the area of my crotch, long enough to reflect a startled interest in its evident Amplitude, which a tight pair of sailing whites did nothing to dissemble. I’m told I am hung like a mule, which at times can be more of a mixed blessing than the lesser-endowed may imagine.
“And what brings you two gents to the Blind Eye?” She quizzed between long swallows of some bile-green mixture in a tall frappé glass, from which a pink umbrella, roughly twelve inches in diameter, constructed from lizard skin and aluminum spokes extruded.
“Doing a spot of sailing, I’ll bet,” Myra answered her own question. “Planning to stay in port tonight, or will you be hitting the river later this p.m.?”
As it was already eleven at night, this question seemed to answer itself as well. In any case, Myra was, like most people, completely incurious about anything that issued from anyone else’s mouth, and barely listened as Smith guardedly outlined our itinerary.
In the shadowed space beneath the pink formica bar, the swift fingers of her left hand trolled over the cotton sheathing of what had become, with no conscious encouragement on my part, my stiffened virile member, squeezing it through my pants with the grip of an octopus.
Smith, ever the jolly roger, leaned into my shoulder and whispered, “I’ll lay even money we can both bone this little tart right in the toilet,” a wager he scarcely uttered before winning it. In the urine-pungent lavatory, Myra hiked up her shabby excuse for a skirt—more of a cunt-wrap than a normal garment, this fringe barely covered her slit—improvised from rolls of orange crepe paper, and proved to be wearing no panties beneath. She engulfed my massive prong with a tenaciously clenching vagina while Smith’s own formidable rod plunged into her evidently well-acclimated anus.
I exploded inside her. She came, and came again, screeching like a vampire doused with a bucket of holy water, as Smith’s engine released its powerful spurts into the skanky narrows of her secondary or tertiary Love Canal. We pulled out of her in unison, wiped off our respective members with wads of moistened paper towels. Satiated, Myra slumped in a toilet stall with the slack, google-eyed, robotic expression of a broken Handwerk bisque socket-head doll on her glittering, unmemorable face.
“Lock the door, would you?” Smith said.
Lock the door—? Funny thing, I thought we had locked it. Now he wanted the door locked on our way out. Great minds are so capricious!
“I thought we were finished in here,” I said stupidly.
I slid the flimsy bolt on the pissoir door while Smith splashed his face with cold water from the basin.
“Nothing’s ever quite finished, that’s the hell of clandestine work such as ours.”
Smith calmly dried his incongruously soft, long hands with a paper towel, affixed a sound suppressor from one trench coat pocket to the muzzle of a .45 caliber pistol drawn from another—the standard-issue Homeland Supreme Authority weapon of choice—and, barely giving her a glance, pumped several rounds into our impromptu date.
“My god Smith what are you doing?”
“What’s it look like, Peter, tying up loose ends!”
There was no time to register shock, or awe. Smith hauled Myra’s body out of the stall and spread it facedown on the grotty floor strewn with sawdust damp with piss, snapping her spine in three places with forceful stomps.
Fortunately, as later examination of her handbag confirmed, Myra’s diet had largely consisted of amphetamine salts, sedatives, and bubble gum. Easiest chippie to dispose of, I’ll say that for her.
“Don’t stand there dithering, Peter, pry the grille off that ventilator shaft.”
Still dazed and confounded, I did as Smith ordered. We then folded Myra’s corporeal form up like a piece of lawn furniture and firmly wedged it into the ventilation shaft. I replaced the grille, my mind entirely empty. Smith had that effect, somehow, of emptying one’s mind with his audacity and what I suppose would be called tenacity of purpose.
The mingy blood spatter and leakage from Myra’s bullet wounds would hardly be noticed by the grossly intoxicated patrons of the Blind Eye. It was the sort of brawling dive where some belligerent oaf or other could be counted on to go all bloody in the shithouse every night of the week.
I assumed, naturally, that Smith had somehow recognized Myra as a ChoFatDong operative, perhaps banging him, and, by extension, me, on orders from Fu Manchu himself. She had pulled the crepe paper over my eyes, but Weymouth Smith’s vast experience in the shadowlands of the Yellow Peril dwarfed my own largely academic training at the State Department.
Smith confirmed my surmise as he rifled Myra’s purse on the walk to the marina.
“See? I knew it from the first. A fake ID,” he declared triumphantly, scrutinizing what may or may not have been a counterfeit driving license and pocketing some loose bills before flinging the ID and handbag into the oily, pylon-lapping depths beneath the gangplank. “Myra Hindley—rather an odious choice of nom de guerre if you ask me.”
We passed the night aboard the Far Frummit, a modest twenty-foot sailing vessel provided by the Company—CIA insisted on having its hand in everything except Myra’s twat, evidently. With the aid of one of Smith’s trademark gadgets, we swept the entire craft for listening devices before uttering more than idiotic drivel, then traded yarns about previous adventures in muff-swiving, sucking in Smith’s powerful ganja, and drinking 32 oz. cans of Heineken. This, too, was idiotic drivel, but one hates being Bugged, even—especially—when uttering a lot of drivel.
Plausible Deniability would certainly be our friend, I supposed, if Myra’s body were discovered, and she turned out to be an agent from our side—what we in the business call “a friendly.”
Next day, on a morning of wisp-clouded azure skies and waves no higher than meringue on a key lime pie, we hoisted anchor and set out upon the Hudson. As already noted, by midday we tired of playing at sailors and tacked over to the diesel fueling jetty, filled the engine from a scaling red pump on which some delinquent had spray-painted I FUCKED MYRA FIRST, beneath which another escapee from juvie had scrawled, I FUCKED HER FACE AND HER ASS.
“These up-country bumpkins never can find the uniquely female parts,” Smith observed, shaking his head with avuncular amusement.
“They’re so used to doing each other, when a woman comes into the picture they think her clitoris is in her belly-button.”
I thought of poor Myra, compressed like a chaise longue in the ventilation shaft.
“I wouldn’t count her out,” said Smith, reading my mind rather disconcertingly.
“She’s dead, ain’t she,” I said.
“Unfortunately or not, Peter, we’re in one business where that doesn’t matter at all.”
We then headed north for the Isthmus of Cairo for some fly-fishing and further ingestion of ganja weed.
“Funny thing,” Smith observed, igniting his fifth spliff of dope, “the locals pronounce it Cay-Ro, rather than Cai-Ro.”
“Yes, I know, it’s a kind of syrup they make around here, and then there’s Ay-Thens, rather than Ah-thens, a little to the north.”
“Funny lot, you Yanks.”
“Well, Smith, that depends on your sense of humor.”
“My bad luck that the first taste of quiff I get on your side of the pond would turn out to be planted by my implacable foe,” he mused. “Eternal vigilance is, alas, the price of our hallowed liberty. The thought of a world ruled by Fu Manchu, on the other hand, makes every sacrifice well worth the trouble. Pert tits on that Myra, I rather thought. Hope you got a decent mouthful of them.”
“I did indeed, sir. Quite a mouthful. Nipples erect. Hard, hard.”
“Next time,” Smith mused as we puttered into a narrow bower of overhanging willows, “p’raps you could take the aft and I’ll manage the forecastle.”
“I say, Peter, why don’t we quit this fetid cove and ditch the Hudson altogether, putter down the Caribbean for a few days?” My first thought—no, my second or third, actually—was that Weymouth Smith found the Isthmus of Cairo so unsuitable for the ingestion of the narcotic he’d been snorting all morning that a flight of foolish fancy, maybe, had seized his sozzled brainpan, or that the cooling towers of the nearby nuclear plant somehow sullied his enthusiasm for fly fishing—but no, my first thought, or gut reaction if you will, was, You betcha!
Much as I loved my position at State, I relish travel— especially by water, and I myself was finding this fishing foray, isthmus to isthmus, of limited interest. We men of action, I’ll be frank, chafe muy rapido when consigned to mothballs for as much as seventy-two hours: danger, or at least taller waves than can be found anywhere along the Hudson Fjord, is really the kind of thing we live for, and no sooner had the suggestion been floated than I envisioned those floribundant isles beyond the coast of Florida—which, in recent years, had moved ever further inland. Like Tokyo, Miami was currently a sea world, accessible only with diving equipment.
Yet the islands, those archipelagos of eco-snazzy gemstones splayed in Harry Winston-glittersome braces across Mare Nostrum, thrust from the seabed millennia ago by volcanic activity, remained more or less as they had been, if not precisely where they had been in relation to other land masses, since their boiling emergence above the Sargasso surface: Dominica, Tobago, Trinidad, St. Bart’s, Martinique, and, of course, the largest and most ensorcelling of all, aside from the scungy yet flavorful Hispaniola: Cuba, that saucy mecca of music, fabulous sex, mint condition Amerian automobiles from the 1940s and 50s, black magic, and the best medical system in the world—still ruled, in defiance of time, by that imperishable queen, Raoul Castro, of whom it was often said that no greater pincushion for monkey gland injections still ambulated upon the earth. With the exception, of course, of Dr. Fu Manchu, who eschewed the primate extract route in favor of his own secret serum—I wondered if Fu and Raoul Castro—surely the two oldest homo sapiens on the planet—had ever met face-to-antediluvian face.
“Ever rhumba’d about down Havana way, Peter?”
It was as if Smith could read my thoughts—well, of course he could, after decades of reading people’s minds like Vegas billboards. Especially my fourth and fifth thoughts, involving as any red-blooded male’s would the prospect of ambidexterous cootchie and the only truly tasty mojitos in the hemisphere. And I’d only heard about the place, never having dared request a posting to our Interest Section just west and a few blocks inland from the Hotel Nationale along Havana’s Malecon.
“I’ve often wanted to see Cuba,” I admitted, blushing like a Victorian maiden glimpsing a fully erect penis on a subway platform, and hating my alabaster skin for its tendency to color up with bashful excitement. “But of course there’s all this procedural rigmarole involved, since they started up black ops at Gizmo.”
“Never been a problem for us Brits,” Weymouth Smith said. “You Yanks really ought to drop that silly embargo lark after all this time—even the UK’s helping their economy thrive and getting a sweet deal in real estate from it, not to mention a veritable smorgasbord of grade A pussy for a pittance in Euros. But I’ve already secured Clearance for you, Peter, what ninny Briefed you? Where I go, there go you, wherever that may be, wherever the prevailing wind may waft us.”
Cuba had once been a mere ninety miles from our shores, or from Key Largo, I could never recall which. Now it was a hundred and twenty-nine, but the Far Frummit—I’ll say this for the Company—had state of the art everything, including a Rolls engine and extensible hydrofoil pontoons—all it lacked were torpedo launchers, and I wasn’t entirely sure those didn’t come with the package.
We’d dropped anchor under bowers of willow boughs that cast delicate meshes of shadow like Impressionist pencil strokes across the Far Frummit’s lacquered white fiberglass, Weymouth Smith’s straw hat and his manly form, naked to the waist, below its brim, and, I suppose, my own manly form below the brim of my straw boater as well. Except for the cloacal fumes of the Isthmus of Cairo, akin to those of a dead rat lodged behind a tenament refrigerator, the morning might have stepped from a painting by Seurat or Caillebotte, and yet one tires of the languid, soft harmonies of nature, somehow, even with amazingly pure Afghani heroin working its miracles in one’s hemoglobin.
“How on earth did you get this shit in here?” I had quizzed Smith earlier, when he unwrapped a brick of plastic-wrapped skag. “I thought they did total body scans on everybody coming into the You Ass of A, and luggage too. It’s SOP.”
Smith cocked owlish eyebrows and puffed on a spliff of ganja mixed with H, held in a massive lungful of smoke, grabbed me forcefully and parted my lips with his mouth, exhaling the mind-annihilating mixture down my throat.
“Not if you’re travelling with the old Diplomatic Bag, they don’t,” he singsonged after about three minutes of total silence, during which the remnants of my sentience took flight on condor wings. “After all, we signed on for your Coalition of the More or Less Willing even though the entire population of the UK was as far from being willing as the Sabine women in that Poussin painting. Lot’s wife is above reproach, and all that.”
I tried placing Lot.
“You mean the Polish airlines?”
Smith ran his fingers athwart his face, ascertaining that it remained attached to his head.
“Close enough, I suppose. Anyway, after you’ve saved the white race from annihilation a few times, Peter, you’ll find that most Western governments will bend over backwards to ensure you a trouble-free time, and not set their mastiffs sniffing about in your carry-on.”
“Is that really the ambition of the ChoFatDong? To eliminate the white race?”
Smith’s brow crinkled in a pantomime of thought.
“Of course not,” he said with a crooked laugh. “We’d be long under the sod, if that were the case. Ingenious vermin could’ve wiped us out a hundred times.”
“Then…” I could scarcely form a vowel, far less a question. “What is the ambition, or what are the ambitions—”
The pungent isthmus reflected in its shirring eddies the fibrillating willow leaves. A striated cloud resembling the loose hair of a drowning septuagenarian, someone perhaps like Valentine Penrose in her closing years, mirrored on that sulphurous inlet, reminded me of something, something I made an admittedly noodle-brained effort to excavate from the tarpits of memory.
“Ambition,” mused Smith. “Curse of the known universe, in my humble view.”
There, evidently, Weymouth Smith intended to leave the whole matter.
“But really, Peter, what do you think? Few days in Cuba, a little R and R in Montserrat, lot more alluring that this relaxing but uneventful isthmus-trawling.”
“When,” I began, promptly forgetting what I intended to ask, suddenly enraptured by the cuticles of my left-hand fingernails, noticing too for the first time how supple the flesh of my extremities felt—I’m not a bad-looking bloke at all, I thought, and a lot of that is owing to my skin care regimen—then my train of thought, which felt less like a train, really, than a haywagon pulled by a distracted donkey, returned:
“When do you propose…setting sail for the Caribbean?”
I touched the left maxillary arch below my Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, fingered my lips, which felt rubbery yet silky smooth, as I observed Smith, flicking the dead spliff into the rippling isthmus, rise shakily to his feet. He stretched. He eyed our surroundings with the indulgent smile of the bravely bored.
“Oh, fuck the fishing, let’s just take off now.” He squinted at the white filaments streaking the cerulean and gauged the sun’s position.
At least an hour passed as we lurched and crawled to the boat’s ignition, all the while falling on our asses and erupting in gales of helpless laughter, but like a flash cut in a strip of celluloid, the Hudson was suddenly rushing us southward before my mind left Athens or Cairo and its syrupy precincts and fumbled its way into the present tense.
I suppose it perturbed me, though not overmuch, that Smith considered killing Myra Hindley in a seedy gin mill toilet uneventful, but of course that was already Then, and Now suddenly presented itself in the receding form of the Statue of Liberty. Below us the New York Harbor Bight segued to the open sea.
“You’re the boss, Inspector Smith.”
“Call me Weymouth, Peter, or just plain Smith. No need for the formality. It’s not like I’m visiting Royalty, for pity’s sake, or Dr. Fu Manchu.”
(excerpted from Gristle Springs, a novel of intrigue)