Old Habits (NaNoWriMo 2022 #21)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the last new chapter I will offer until Sunday, as I am quite exhausted from writing 43,000 words in three weeks while working a full-time job and living a jam-packed life. I also have a great deal of Thanksgiving cooking to do. Many thanks to all of the kind emails and messages. I’ve been stunned and deeply honored by the positive reception to this insane endeavor, which I wrote in a bubble, without any plan, and simply to have fun. Happy Thanksgiving to all!]

(Start from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)

(Previously: The White Savior Problem)

Nick Carraway (real name: ________________) was lying in bed with an obscene number of pillows, wearing nothing more than a robe he had purloined from the Cheval Blanc St-Tropez during his six month stay in the French Riviera. He sipped a tamarind mojito with measured leisure as the gentle water roared outside and the two women wrapped their arms around his neck, purring sweet Spanish into his ears that he could only half-comprehend but that had an infallible restorative effect on what little remained of his soul. One of the women had tied one of his burgundy ties around her neck and was wearing nothing else. The other dangled the brim of his fedora around her tousled brown bangs and laughed, thinking of the vast fortune she was making that morning, and she also wasn’t wearing anything else. He’d purchased this modest but cozy Puerto Plata bungalow — which was situated next to a large manse owned by an obscenely rich medical instrument titan fond of throwing obscenely opulent parties — through the shell company he’d set up four years before: the paperwork thoroughly vetted and steamed by the legal cleaners in Chicago. And while he had once possessed a formidable work ethic that still bubbled up from time to time when he worked on his garden, he was enjoying this new life. When you didn’t spend a large chunk of your week burying bodies, you tended to be a tad more relaxed.

That’s when the phone rang.

He picked up the phone, the old habit not quite capable of dying.

“Oh, chulo!” cried fedora. “Papi proxeneta, put telĂ©fono down.”

And he was planning to do just that. Only a few of his old contacts knew this number.

But the name on the phone was Bill Flogaast. Shit.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“Nick!”

“I’m retired.”

“You don’t understand.”

Burgundy climbed his neck and planted several rapturous kisses upon his nape.

“I do understand. I’m retired. Find somebody else.”

Fedora scolded Nick with her wagging finger. “No telĂ©fono! No, no, no!”

“Who’s with you?”

“That’s my business. Not yours. Goodbye.”

And just as Nick was about to hang up and engage in round four with the two ladies, Flogaast said four words that swiftly altered his priorities.

“It’s the Big Guy.”

His lust quickly left him.

“Is this a secure line?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Your name flashed on my phone. So clearly it isn’t. Call me back at the right number in five minutes.”

“Okay.”

He clutched the phone like Gollum refusing to capitulate the ring. He’d have to wipe it again. Contacts, texts, the lot. Just in case. And he liked this model. Bill Fucking Flogaast. Not as slick as he believed himself to be.

Nick darted out of bed, all business. He grabbed the pastel billfold of pesos and doled out a liberal sum to each of the two women.

“Oh, Nick!” cried fedora.

“Nick!” murmured burgundy.

“You two bonitas don’t make this easy. Lo siento. Business.”

“Nick,” hummed fedora. She put her scolding finger into her succulent mouth and lightly pulled it in and out to convey to Nick just what he was giving up, her beautiful almond eyes never leaving Nick’s gaze. Then burgundy grabbed fedora’s delicate hands in hers and the two started making out, moving closer, their palms flattening against the contours of their backs and tracing shoulders and curves, enjoying the spectacle of being watched, the thrill of trying to persuade this gringo to give them more money.

Dominican women. Worse than Portuguese women. At times like this, he resented having self-control.

He gave them more money.

“You have to go.”

“Nick!”

“We can pick this up later. Ir ahora.”

Burgundy pouted. But fedora collected their thongs, their microscopic skirts, and their halter tops.

He walked into the study and shut the door. He sat down on the vintage swivel chair next to the old rolltop desk. He opened his laptop and activated the surveillance cameras (there were twenty-four of them in the bungalow), watching the two women get dressed and collect their things. You couldn’t be too careful. Then he heard the ancient chime of one of his no-frills Nokias. He slid open the drawer containing the twenty-three burner phones before seeing the word “Private” glisten on one of these in an early noughties typeface. Another look at the cameras. The two women walked out the front door, laughing and counting their pesos. Reasonably secure.

He answered the phone.

“Yeah,” he said again. “Yeah” was the way he answered all calls. He had honed his “Yeah” over time to make it as gruff and as peremptory as possible. You wanted a “Yeah” that could scare the living bejesus out of some cold caller misdialing from the Third World or cause some anxious stranger to take up therapy again.

“It’s me.”

“The Big Guy. He’s been dead for five years. I thought we cleaned everything up.”

“We didn’t. Two journalists were nosing around.”

“Who?”

“I took care of one of them.”

Who?” he repeated.

“A loser by the name of Herbert Budruck.”

How did you take care of him?”

“Well, I wasn’t the one to take care of him.”

“Okay, who did?”

“David Leich.”

“Leich? Oh no.”

“Well, what was I supposed to do?”

“You should have called me first.”

“You’re retired.”

“And let me guess. He screwed it up.”

“Yes. He called the vacuum guys per the protocol.”

Nick heard the telltale sound of a car passing in the background.

“Are you driving right now?”

“Yes.”

“To where?”

“A sitting Senator, as it so happens. He’s also involved in this.”

“Bill, how many times have I told you? Low profile. No politicians.”

He recalled the botched job in Kansas City. The dossier hadn’t said anything about the target being a mayoral candidate. And that guy ended up surviving the attack, becoming a socialist hero, and winning the election. He’d been forced to lie low for two years before resurfacing. That had cost him a considerable sum of money and he spent the time in Italy learning how to make pasta from scratch. The Kansas City contretemps hadn’t impacted his reputation. Everybody knew that Nick was a consummate pro and there was always some Factor X outside of your control.

“You said there two journalists,” said Nick. “Who’s the other? I presume this one’s still alive?”

“You haven’t been paying attention to the news, have you?”

“And why should I? I’m retired.”

“Her name is Ali Breslin. I tried to stop her! Really, I did. And not everything came out.”

“Came out? How big is this?”

“She’s written a book about Van Kleason.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. Stroller had to flee to Groningen.”

Nick had always been suspicious of Stroller. Of course, he’d seen far worse over the years. Humans were capable of anything, especially when they were entangled with the criminal element. But you learned not to judge people for being monstrous. The money certainly helped to keep the unspeakable out of sight and out of mind. But the trafficking ring, connected to so many prominent people, was a bad idea. Bill had been immune to his logic, reminding him that Stroller had offered many of his authors a deal they couldn’t refuse and that he knew the right people. But knowing the right people didn’t excuse incompetence. He’d seen so many who “knew the right people” disappear. In the regular world, you were called into some human resources office and given a severance package. And maybe you’d cry and complain to your wife. But in the underworld, you didn’t have that middle-class luxury. If you bungled a job, there was a good chance you’d get a bullet to the head.

“How big is this book?”

“Huge. Breslin’s been doing media appearances.”

Goddammit, the mess was even bigger than he could have imagined.

“Bill, you assured me that people don’t read anymore.”

“Well, apparently, they’re reading Ali’s book!”

“Goddammit.”

“So I hope you can understand why I called you.”

“I do. But I think I’m going to sit this one out.”

There was a gulp on the other end.

“WHAT?”

“I’m retired, Bill.”

“But this isn’t over. You’re still involved!”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“They’ll get you.”

“Let them try. I’m fifteen moves ahead.”

“Why did you leave the business, Nick? You were so good.”

“Do you want the honest answer? Or do you want the sweet lie that will help you sleep better at night?”

“You know what I want.”

“Give me two minutes.”

He placed the burner phone into the cradle next to his laptop and an enormous WAV file, an audio display of this connection, popped up on the screen. The software scraped the frequency. No taps. Nothing untoward in the peaks. Not a single tone revealing that somebody else was listening in.

“Good. You’re clean.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’d be surprised. Henry’s finishing up four years for vehicular assault. He should have killed Sophie, but he didn’t. And he hates himself for that. Really hates himself. It was an affront to his work ethic. And he’s loyal, Bill. Very loyal. One of the best men I ever had under my wing. Never talked. Even when the Feds tried to sweeten the pot with an immunity deal and get him in a witness relocation program if he named names. But he didn’t.

“He knew the risks.”

“But he didn’t talk. Other men have, but he didn’t talk. And because he didn’t talk, his husband left him. And he had a good thing going on with his marriage.”

“I know something about that. My wife left me last year.”

“I’m not sure you do. You never killed anyone.”

There was a pause. A pause he often heard from the squeaky clean with one toe in the sordid pool.

“Are you still there?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Bill, you have the privilege of being yourself. Sure, you have to keep track of the lies that you tell your authors, the media people, your coworkers, and all that. And you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Fuck me. This is stressful.’ And I don’t want to gainsay your stress. I’m sure it’s something you unload to a shrink. But you’re small time, Bill. Just small time.”

“Come on, Nick.”

“Bill, I’m not finished. You’re a publicist, one of the smartest publicists in the publishing industry, and you haven’t learned how to shut up when someone is trying to unload a bit of wisdom.”

“I’m sorry. Continue.

“Imagine a set of lies that becomes a second identity. Or even a third identity. That’s a little trickier. That’s not something that everyone can do. That’s what separates the soft men from the hard men. That’s what distinguishes the professional from the amateur. And let me assure you, Bill, that I am a fucking professional. That’s why you called me, right?”

“Right.”

“Because you couldn’t find someone else.”

“You’re the only man who can do this.”

“Oh, I know that. But I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“Because, you needlessly persistent son of a bitch, I’m retired. Capisce?”

“Understood.”

“So when I hear you beg me to clean up your mess — and I honestly don’t give a flying fuck about how bad it is because, as I’ve told you, I’m retired and I know this game better than you do — I hear a man who isn’t much of a man at all. I hear a man who probably made a big mistake and left his career far too soon. I hear a man who is riding on his laurels. Who lives in the past. There’s a reason I go by Nick Carraway. It is quite straightforward. You can’t relive the past, old sport.”

“Understood. I won’t bother you again.”

“Good. And Bill?”

“Yes.”

“If you call me again, I’ll make sure that you sink to the bottom of the Hudson River, chained to a concrete block, wondering in your final moments why everything went so wrong.”

“Okay.”

“And one last thing. Don’t call the guys at Coca-Cola. I worked with them to humor you. I did make some concessions with all my clients. But they’re not professional and they lack discipline. And they’re not going to help you out of this.”

“Who should I call then?”

“Oh, you’re a big boy. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go on my afternoon swim.”

“Okay.”

“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Bill.”

Nick hung up. Then he looked out the window and wondered if he could retrieve his fedora and burgundy tie in the next fifteen minutes.

(Word count: 43,196/50,000)

The White Savior Problem (NaNoWriMo 2022 #20)

(Start from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)

(Previously: The Talk)

The deli was located on Block 1263, Lot 26, assigned for rental by Rotaine Realty to an equity company run by bloodless money-hording men. They had learned in their formative years at Wharton and Kellogg that having either an active imagination or a human heart was a financial liability.

Many of the equity men had not laughed for at least a decade. They feared that possessing a sense of humor might loosen their vise-like grip on several Midtown buildings in the area. And on a nice autumn day, you could usually find many of them standing on the top of buildings practicing new ways to be more callous and considering the best method of plotting world domination. Which was absurd. Because they were merely intermediaries. They had as much of a shot at changing the world as a Green Bay Packers fan, his delirious face painted in the ritualistic paint of white and green, has in willing Aaron Rodgers to throw the right spiral to a wide receiver.

They kept a close eye on property appraisals and how much those bastards in Albany wanted to tax them and how much these heightened taxes could be used by Rotaine to alter preexisting agreements. They had to ensure that the millions they borrowed could be significantly offset by the exorbitant rents they charged to business owners operating with a dicey profit margin. And this was not always easy. These feverish and often cruel capitalists, who got excited about wealth acquisition in much the same way that the rest of us stare in wonder at cloud formations, had signed and notarized security instruments that were decidedly unfavorable to them. So they passed along this spirit of unfairness to renters, who had even less leverage than they did. Sure, the equity men had their own high-priced attorneys — men who had also not laughed for at least a decade but who were too timid and passive-aggressive to stand on the tops of buildings — look over the documents and try to negotiate with Rotaine. But the only point that Rotaine would concede involved the chalky strip of cornices lining the edge of the building’s roof, which the equity company hoped to upgrade and repair so that, collectively, Rotaine and the equity company could boost the property value and avoid pecuniary surprises.

Everyone in real estate knew that the insurance men had a weird fetish for cornices. Nobody really knew why cornices mattered so much, but they did. And when an insurance appraiser inspected a property to determine the next year’s premium rate, cornices were a very big deal. If even one of your cavettos flailed against the mathematical ideal or you couldn’t remove that flock of pigeons settling upon one of your eaves, you were basically fucked. You’d get dinged and reamed and the realtors remained unsympathetic about this state of affairs. The cornice problem had allowed engineers and contractors to make very good money preserving and replacing cornices. And this is why you see so many well-maintained cornices in Manhattan. It is not so much that these men wish to uphold architectural beauty. It really comes down to people in real estate having the joyless temperament of tight and cutthroat cheapskates.

It is safe to say that none of the parties assembled in the deli behind imposing steel gates had considered the role of cornices in their paycheck-to-paycheck lives. They were too busy trying to survive, scanning supermarket circulars for sales and finding inventive ways to pinch pennies as inflation reared its ugly head. Certainly Ezmerelda had never thought about cornices. But she was thinking about the creepy signs and Black Messiah incantations she had briefly witnessed in the scuffle outside right before the nice man had let her in.

She walked up the stairs and saw dozens of dewey-eyed refugees sitting at the tables on the second floor. Some of them made valiant efforts to join domino games, which were spearheaded by cheerful men who looked at the bones below them with a fierce intensity that more sheltered types devoted to studying the Voynich manuscript. Some of them whimpered in corners. One woman took advantage of this improvised lockdown and was practicing her twerking moves in time to the thumping bossa nova beats booming loud over the speakers. Blue collars and white collars were forced to console each other as the submachine guns roared and rattled outside, punctuating the apocalyptic aura much like a plate of tiramisu served after a nice Italian meal. But this was New York, a city where you yawned as some rando screamed obscenities on the subway. And they quickly grew accustomed to the fix they were in. And the deli was started to feel more like a happening block party before some affluent homeowner calls the police to break up the fun — largely because he is too miserable and mirthless to land party invites and he feels an overwhelming need to extinguish other people’s felicity.

A large flatscreen TV played CNN on mute, with the closed captions and the news crawl offering variations on the same theme that had already been swiftly established: this was the beginning of a civil war. And New York was not the only city where insurrections had breaking out. Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles. Firebombed buildings steamed with thin onyx teems of smoke as anchors offered the usual inappropriate cheerfulness and halfassed analysis, although this time they weren’t embellishing their reporting with a farrago of F-bombs.

They said that the long-standing tension between red and blue had simmered to a boil. Nobody knew who had assassinated Tucker Carlson. The Lee County Police, unaccustomed to doing little else on their shifts other than eating donuts and straining their brains with the latest Wordle puzzle, were not especially equipped or perspicacious enough to solve the mystery. And when the police chief appeared on camera to deliver a statement to the press, he had the look of a man who squinted with hopeless incomprehension when you cited Plato. And because the newsmen and the people in power were so inept when it came to informing the public, everyone was relying on Reddit conspiracy theories. Political leaders, who could not rectify their inveterate habit of doing fuck all to prevent such disasters, offered their thoughts and prayers.

Ezmerelda stood near the wall taking in the scene: a strange amalgam of people surrendering to the grief of an endgame they could not control or trying to make the best of it by throwing a party. The biggest surprise was that nobody was fucking each other out in the open. It was almost as if impending developments on a massive scale had caused people to reevaluate what was socially appropriate. Not unlike the way that people, shortly after 9/11, had for a brief time actually been there for each other.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun around, prepared to deck a menacing stranger. But it was the same unassuming man who had ushered her into his deli.

“You eat,” he said, pointing at the open-air view that revealed a line of people gathered on the first floor, scooping soup from four very large tureens. “Sushi and soup. All free.”

“Free?”

“I take loss anyway. All free. You eat, rest up.”

“Thank you.”

The man didn’t tell Ezmerelda (or anyone else) that he was going to throw out the soup anyway and that, had not the excitement happened outside, he would be trying to sell off the remaining sushi that he’d have to toss at the end of the day by placing a 50% off sign next to all the plastic containers.

She didn’t know how long she was going to be here. Would the police be able to stop the two factions from murdering each other? She already knew the answer. She remembered her Carnarsie days, that ugly afternoon when she and her mother walked home with groceries and two cops stood outside a police car, arms crossed and staring into space as some gangbanger shot a brotha right in the head. They knew that they needed to walk right past them and not give them any eye contact. A pig always found any pretext to arrest you. There was a white gentrifier openly screaming at the two cops. “Aren’t you going to do anything about this?” he screeched in an adenoidal voice that Ezmerelda laughed about later. “Not our responsibility,” said one of the cops. “If you have a problem, call 911.”

The only way that you could get the pork chops to do anything was if unruly crowds directly threatened the financial interests of property owners. Only then would the police summon the nerve to serve and protect.

She scooped up a plastic container of spicy tuna rolls in brown rice and settled down at one of the tables, breaking apart the tiny wasabi mass with her chopsticks after pouring a penny-thin pouch of soy sauce over it.

That’s when the two white women approached her: one standing six feet tall and casting a strangely proprietary shadow on the table, the other a blue-haired riot grrrl with several studs in her nose.

“Excuse me,” said the tall one. “Are you?”

“I’m trying to eat,” replied Ezmerelda.

“You see?” said the riot grrrl. “It’s her!”

“Who?” said an old dude in a sad Sears suit sitting by himself.

“Nobody asked you,” sneered the tall one. “You’re part of the patriarchy.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, cupping his hand to his face to hide and returning to desperate pokes at his phone.

“You’re a hero, you know,” said the riot grrrl.

“I’m no hero.”

“You’re going to save us!” said the tall one.

Ezmerelda dropped her chopsticks onto her paper napkin.

“Bitch, I’m not here to save anyone. Can you just leave me alone?”

The riot grrrl laughed. “She’s so funny.”

“That wasn’t a joke.”

“She is the Messiah!” shrieked the tall one.

“The Messiah?”

“I saw a TED Talk from Brie Attenberg,” said the riot grrrl, “in which she said that Black people are the Messiah.”

“I’m not Christ. I don’t believe in a fictitious deity.”

“The Messiah is always humble,” beamed the tall one.

“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not the fucking Messiah. Now can you please let me eat my sushi in peace?”

“Bev, I don’t think we’re being mindful,” said the riot grrrl.

“Oh right, Lydia,” said Bev. “We forgot to check our privilege.”

Bev and Lydia locked arms.

“Everyone!” shouted Lydia. “We have something that we want to share.”

“Oh no,” said Ezmerelda.

The men looked up from their domino games, half of them shaking their heads. Then they returned to slapping down bones. The only real audience these two women had was the friendless man who they’d berated only a few minutes before.

“My name is Beverly. And I’m ashamed to a colonialist!”

“My name is Lydia. And I hate being white.”

“We are here to save this woman!”

“Stop it,” said Ezmerelda.

“We are guilty.”

“Guilty of being white.”

“This is Ezmerelda Gibbons. A Black victim in the war against women.”

The friendless man pointed his phone to this scene and began to live stream it.

“She took to OnlyFans because the white imperialists oppressed her!”

“White imperialists like us.”

Ezmerelda hurled her chopsticks into the dark basin of the half-eaten sushi container.

“Bitch, are you trying to speak for me?”

“Wh — what? No!”

“Because it sounds like you are.”

The two women immediately shut up and waved their hands desperately to appear deferential.

“We didn’t mean it like that.”

“How you meant it,” said Ezmerelda, “isn’t how I experienced it. Let me ask you something. Do you know who Tyler Perry is?”

“Is he the guy on Friends?”

“Or how about jerk chicken? Ever had it for dinner?”

“What’s jerk chicken?” whispered Lydia.

“Yeah, I thought so,” said Ezmerelda with a smile. “Y’all trying to take my life and make it yours. But you don’t have a goddamn clue how I’ve lived. I’m not a victim. Maybe you are. But I’m not.”

“But you’re…you’re…”

“An OnlyFans girl? Yes, I was. But I wasn’t oppressed by imperialists! Girl, where’d you get that crazy white shit from? Y’all just looking for a reason to take my life and make it yours. White fucking saviors going around calling me the Messiah and shit.” She looked into the camera. “Can you believe this? Black people aren’t your collectible dolls. I got a mind and a life. And I’m damned happy with how things turned out. So you can take your Karen crusading bullshit and stick it up your bony, clueless, calorie-denying ass. Black people don’t need you.”

The domino guys began applauding.

“Holy shit,” said the friendless man.

“What?” replied Ezmerelda.

“This, uh, live stream is going viral. I’ve got fifty — no, sixty thousand people watching it.”

“Then maybe you should shut it off.”

“Okay,” said the friendless man.

Bev and Lydia slinked to the back of the room in embarrassment.

“What’s your name?” said Ezmerelda.

“Donald Moore,” said the man, offering his hand. “And I can’t get in touch with my wife Ginny.”

(Next: Old Habits)

(Word count: 41,096/50,000)

The Talk (NaNoWriMo 2022 #19)

(Start from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)

(Previously: The Dark Soul)

She held Clark’s hand. Not with the dutiful cadences of a dying relationship on autopilot, but with a faith emerging from an unknown recess. A hope hard to pinpoint. An instinct she couldn’t explain.

She actually wanted to salvage this, whatever this was. And it was something.

He wiped the corners of his small mouth with the damp washcloth. His breath still pushed the malodorous zephyr of half-regurgitated blueberry-bannana mush into the intimate air between them. He was still there. Just as he always had been. Just as he had picked her out of the chair and helped her when she needed to relieve herself. Just as he cooked for her and made her believe that she still had a life even when she could not walk. And all this atoned for the stink veering into the space they shared.

And that was new for Sophie. Very, very new. The big draw that she had hoped to strike with Paul, but it had been she who had stayed, not him.

Clark had stayed. Even after she confessed to him about her previous kinky life. Even after she had shown her the video of long dead Paul being forced at gunpoint to perform fellatio on that child — that poor, poor child. And how many men would stay after seeing that? Knowing that this was the kind of creep that she had actually chosen to marry and somehow summoned the nerve to stick with.

“He wanted to go public,” said Sophie. “It started off as a way to woo new readers. Because he really wanted a bigger audience. And people in that circle knew people in power.”

“When did you know?”

“Three months before he died.”

“And you still carried on with your…”

“Subs. With my subs, yes.”

“And you…you bruised them?”

“Flogged them. Impact play. Much different from anything Paul was involved in.”

“But that’s…that’s…”

“More common than you know, Clark. These men all wanted me to hurt them. And that was the difference between Paul and me. I never did anything that they didn’t want me to do. We were very careful with consent, Clark. It’s the cornerstone of that type of life. But Paul? His sick world? He got used to it.”

She remembered that night when she had found the videos on Paul’s phone when he was in the shower. The two of them screamed at each other with more bitter ferocity than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had managed in the entirety of their famously fractious relationship. Several glasses — many of them wedding gifts from twelve years before — were hurled against the wall. She’d almost walked out and moved back in with her mother. The man she had married was a monster.

But then she saw the remorse in his eyes. Not enough for her to forgive him, but enough for her to see that he had nobody else to turn to. If she didn’t listen to him that night, then he wouldn’t find the right way out. And while she hated the fact that he needed to rely on her and that he had gone much further than anything she could ever imagined, she knew that sticking it out — he still carrying on his fixation on Ezmerelda Gibbons, she still carrying on with her revolving door of malleable beef — was the only way to save those kids and to expose the villainous media-industry complex that had kept this evil trafficking operation going. They called the FBI the next morning. A temporary immunity agreement was granted, though it was not a piece of paper that would exculpate Van Kleason from criminal charges. It was simply a stopgap. Three months later, Paul was dead.

“Who was involved?” asked Clark.

“Three Academy Award winners. Four Pulitzer winners. Two MacArthur Fellows. At least one former President. And that’s only a small sample, Clark. Really, you don’t want to know. There’s a strong chance that you’ve been a huge fan of at least one of these cultural figures. These people were bad, Clark. Very bad. They had no problem looking the other way while Benjamen Stroller…”

“Wait a minute. Benjamen Stroller? The podcaster?”

“How do you know Ben? You’ve never believed in conspiracy theories.”

“I listened to his shows on the drive into work. When you work for city government, it’s useful to study the fringe element. To unpack the lunatic mind. They show up to the office more frequently than you might expect. And if you know how they think, you can usually find a way to defuse them.”

“That’s very, very…”

“Strategic of me? Yes. But you know I don’t like conflict.”

“Then why are you still here?” she said.

He paused, temporarily releasing his hand from hers. His eyes misted up.

“What? Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’re not put off by everything I’ve just told you?”

“Were you involved in the sex ring?”

“No. But I had my own little thing going on.”

“Yes, but you did nothing illegal.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“You think I didn’t go through an exploration phase.”

She laughed. “What? You?”

“Yeah. In my thirties. After my divorce. I was a hopeless slut, Sophie. I was what the kids now call a fuccboi. Tinder was new and I was lonely. And suddenly the very faults that Jill had condemned me for were pluses. I slept with dozens of women. I didn’t know I had it in me.”

“You?”

“Me.”

She found it hard to believe. He had never been especially adventurous in the sack. Missionary, an occasional 69, that was about it. He had never picked her up and fucked her in the kitchen. Even when she asked him to after the accident. He felt that anything that transformed her into a fetish was too gauche. But that was the strangest thing. After years of tinkering with men and being a fearsome top, she felt that it was her turn to play bottom. And she didn’t know how to tell him this. He had never asked to bind her in restraints or to be tied up. He had remained relatively incurious and he frequently disparaged the couples copulating in public places.

“If you had this in you, why didn’t you try any of this with me?”

“Because I wanted to be…”

“Normal?”

“Yeah.”

“None of us are normal, Clark. Deep down, we’re all fucked up inside.”

“But not as fucked up as Benjamen Stroller. Where did he get the money to finance this operation?”

“He worked for WNYC and his career went nowhere. Few people listened to his show. Then he met up with some Dutch people with money and he struck out on his own. As a podcaster. With the Dutch money behind him. And he realized that he was likely to gain more listeners if he courted the disinformation demographic. He wanted to be an edgier and angrier Art Bell.”

“Oh, he is.”

“And he needed big names as guests. So he started to blackmail prestigious names with Bill Flogaast.”

“Who’s Bill Flogaast?”

“He was a huge publicist at the house that published Paul’s books. Connections to the underworld. Paul called him the ‘Cleanup Man.’ He took many midlist authors under his wing.”

“Midlist authors?”

“Authors who sold well enough to keep in-house, but not well enough to hit the New York Times bestseller list. And he would turn them into overnight successes. Near the end of his run, he was handling all the literary Daves.”

“Literary Daves?”

“There are a lot of literary writers named Dave. Don’t ask me why that is. Maybe Davids are more inclined to write. Anyway, he steered them onto Stroller, whose blackmail operation was turning into a bonanza.”

“But why would Stroller and Flogaast single out authors?”

“Because social media tends to overlook their bad behavior. Do you know that author Zen Tang?”

“Didn’t he make a viral video years ago in which he said ‘the next morning we ate spinach’ over and over again?”

“That’s the guy. Well, Tang raped his partner and even stole her story for his bestselling novel, Stephen Dixon. And the literary people simply pretended that none of that ever happened. And he’s still very popular. Bill and Benjamen realized that, because most book people were incredibly gullible, the midlisters could be used as recruiters for the sex trafficking ring.”

“Jesus. And nobody looked into this?”

“Nobody reads anymore, Clark.”

“I do.”

“I mean, most regular people. Authors can be monsters, but literary people — who are, for the most part, incredibly sheltered and introverted — somehow overlook this. They believe in staying relentlessly cheery and positive. I mean, there was one guy, a website editor named Isiah Gatsby who was heavily involved with this creep in Los Angeles named Jason Prufrock, who established a ‘No haters’ policy that quickly spread to every outlet still reviewing books. Sure, there was the Shitty Media Men list, but none of those men ever got canceled. Most of them still have careers.”

“You’re going to have to slow down. I don’t know any of these people.”

“Sorry. An old habit. Paul was incredibly obsessed by all these names. One of the reasons I don’t read much anymore is because I know what a lot of these authors have done. And I just can’t stomach it.”

“So why is Senator Rollins so important?”

“I don’t know. Bill Flogaast usually kept away from politics. But after Paul died, Bill left the business. Something to do with an executive editor named Gingrich Moore, who I was regrettably friendly with.”

“How friendly?”

“She handled an author named Butch Wheel, who was also her boytoy.”

“Do you mean Gingrich was fucking Wheel?”

“Yes. And Paul attended some book party and got drunk and spilled something about my kinky life to her. And Gingrich swooped in and wanted me to coach her.”

“You couldn’t say no?”

“She had something on Paul, something that she wouldn’t elaborate on. Much of which I’ve already told you. And you have to understand something about Ginny Moore. She’s not someone you can easily say no to. Plus, Paul was thinking about jumping to another house and Ginny suggested that, if I helped her, she could help Paul. So sometimes she would be at the Atlantis with me. She seemed to have a natural instinct for beating the shit out of men.”

“Was Ginny involved in the sex trafficking?”

“No. But I’m pretty sure she knew about it.”

“How much of an open secret was it?”

“That I don’t know.”

There was a knock at the front door.

“I’ll get that,” said Clark.

Clark opened the door. It was Debbie Ballard. She was holding a large paper shopping bag.

Sophie rolled her chair over to the doorway.

“Debbie? What are you doing here?”

“I didn’t know who else to go to.”

“Well,” snapped Sophie. “We’re a little busy. And we’re no longer friends.”

“Sophie, please. Give me ten minutes. I’m in a pickle and I can’t even tell Gabrielle about this.”

“Sophie,” said Clark, “we’re a little busy right now.”

Debbie took a book from her bag. It was the Ali Breslin volume.

“How did you get a copy of that?” cried Sophie. “I thought there was an embargo.”

“I have my sources. But I’ve read the whole thing. You’re going to want to listen very carefully to what I have to say.”

(Next: The White Savior Problem)

(Word count: 38,907/50,000)

The Dark Soul (NaNoWriMo 2022 #18)

(Start from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)

(Previous: The Scandal of Unfettered Speech)

David Leich nailed the third mouse that he had caught that morning to the bookcase in the foyer. The blood of these increasingly stinky rodent corpses spilled onto a flattened and slightly yellowed newspaper clipping from years ago — one of many copies he bought on the day Mike Harvest had savaged his third novel, Wake Up Little Sassoon. Harvest had ridiculed Leich’s long passages describing Siegfried Sasson’s nose, which had come from Leich’s keen interest in rhinology. Goddammit, they had never complained before! He was the nose guy. And it was one of the reasons why his work had resonated with the people who handed out the literary awards. But Harvest resented the fact that Leich had concentrated on the least interesting part of that World War I hero’s life: namely, his privileged boyhood and a thirty-page chapter in which young Siegfried carried on a dialogue with a horse about whether or not eating lots of carrots signaled that you were a closeted vegetarian.

So Leich had bought as many copies of the newspaper he could, particularly in his neighborhood. The last thing he wanted was for people in his neighborhood to slag him off, although he was often so unbearable that New Yorkers didn’t need to know that he was an author to tell him to fuck off. Leich was part of the last analog generation: someone old enough to remember the smell of mimeograph, that halcyon age in which you could walk down the street without bumping into some twentysomething staring down at her phone. As such, he had failed to anticipate that Harvest’s hatchet job was also online and that there was a great zeal to share it.

Leich knew that Harvest was a cowardly man who avoided authors he had trashed in print, which sadly precluded Leich from running into Harvest at a book party and socking him in the face. So he tried to take him out through his connections. Flogaast had said that he hated Harvest too, but that he was too big to take out. “Wait it out,” said Flogaast. And so he did. And that’s when the Jakester thing came up, which Leich believed that Flogaast had a bit of a hand in. And while Leich had popped open the champagne upon learning that Harvest had been shitcanned from his long-held perch, the sting of Harvest’s words still resonated years later. He was an artist, dammit!

Leich laughed as the drops of blood stained Harvest’s printed words from 2002.

“How do you like that, you little fuck?” he shouted at the newspaper, failing to understand in his derangement that newspapers were not sentient and did not talk back. In fact, the printed word was more futile than cats and dogs, who tolerated human monologues only because they were angling for treats. The domesticated animals knew — as so did many of the furry bodega mascots and the savvy street cats — that simply letting these very tall and strange creatures who fed and groomed them ramble in incomprehensible gibberish was an easy way to survive. All they had to do was wag their tails or meow from time to time, sometimes performing tricks as they held up thin rectangular objects, and these highly gullible ape-descended marks would give them anything they wanted.

The rodents that scampered through Leich’s apartment, however, were not so lucky. Sure, in highly contained and sterile environments, they could be cute. But they were much smaller, moved too fast, and carried disease. Thus, they become emboldened and fearless and feasted on the large heaps of trash bags regularly left on the streets that afforded them a veritable buffet. The humans were dirty and careless and often dropped wrappers and half-eaten sandwiches onto the street. And they had the nerve to bait them with peanut butter?

It was a pity that the rats couldn’t let their sons and daughters know about David Leich, who, with his multifarious traps, was one of the most dangerous of these giant executioners. Even when they squeaked to each other in hypersonic frequencies beyond the spectrum of the human ear, they still couldn’t telegraph to each other just how diabolical certain people were. You were minding your own business, innocently following a trail in the wall that had been scraped out over the course of several centuries by your grandfathers and your great great grandfathers, and then you felt this painful blade at the back of your skull from one of those enormous quadrangles that was offering you a free meal.

The foyer bookcase had contained the books of David Leich’s enemies, which he read over and over when he was feeling particularly masochistic. He wished that the books, simply by being close to the rodent corpses, could somehow open a telepathic link to the authors who wrote them, so they could see the full horrorshow of how we was handling the pestilence in his apartment right now. They’d be frightened out of their minds! He had considered burning the books, but realized that the Nazis had done this. And for all of his sociopathic faults, for all the qualities that gave so many people people several reasons to punch him in the face, David Leich was not a Nazi.

There was a scree from his phone, echoed by the high-pitched alerts from all other phones in adjacent apartments and the streets below. An Amber Alert perhaps?

He picked up the phone and read the text:

EMERGENCY! Riots have broken out in Midtown Manhattan. All subway lines have been shut down. The area between 34th Street and 59th Street has been closed off. The rioters are armed. NYC residents are urged to shelter in place. Remain in your residence. Residents in all five boroughs will be arrested if they are found walking outside.

Leich yawned.

The world had threatened to destroy itself so many times, but he was still quite alive. And living in a high-target city where he would be vaporized immediately if the Russians fired nukes. Which would be a better fate than slowly dying of starvation and radiation poisoning. If millions had to die, it was far more pragmatic to get your inevitable death out of the way rather than sob in a countryside dacha.

There was a buzz from down below.

Shit. Budruck. That insignificant little peon who had phoned him an hour before. Why had he said yes when he was so busy building a mouse mortuary?

“Give me five minutes and I’ll buzz you in,” he barked into the speaker.

“Come on! Let me in! It’s a war zone out here.”

“You can tough it out for five minutes.”

He got the mop bucket from the kitchen and did his best to pull out the nails with the back of his hammer. Two of the three mouse corpses plopped into the pail. The other one was more stubborn.

Budruck buzzed again.

“That contemptuous little man,” said Leich.

He grabbed the set of shears that he used for the private garden that he had a key to. His Angllophilia had turned him into a gardener. He actually enjoyed pruning the hedges, per his deal with the building. Then he snipped the tail.

He opened the window — the one at the back of the building that Budruck would not see — and tossed out the 2.98 rat corpses, watching them tumble down four stories. He heard the scream of some hapless pedestrian down below and then shut the window. He grabbed a comforter and nailed this over the foyer bookcase to disguise the tail. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a stink anymore.

Then he buzzed Budruck in.

He undid the three deadbolts and opened the door, being careful to stand with his back to the bookcase so that Budruck would not notice. But Budruck was in his own head, frantically waving his hands and talking a mile a minute. He rushed past Leich and headed straight to the settee in the living room.

“…and these fuckers bumped me! Me! The guy who had all the real dirt on Van Kleason!”

Leich locked the three deadbolts.

“You know, you never told me.”

“Told you what?”

“What dirt you had?”

“The Van Kleason death was a coverup!”

“Oh? I thought he died from a broken heart.”

“That’s not what someone who works at the Myrtle Beach coroner’s office told me. Apparently, the autopsy report was forged! Someone paid a lot of money to cover it up.”

Leich cleared his throat.

“And who do you think that might be?”

“I have reason to believe that Paul Van Kleason was murdered. Much like Epstein’s mysterious death in jail. Ali Breslin, that bitch, has already pointed to Van Kleason’s involvement with a sex trafficking operation.”

There was gunfire outside.

“Herbert, have you taken a look at the world outside? I think there we have bigger problems.”

“Oh, fuck civil unrest. It’s going to die down! It always does. This story has real legs! And I was meant to tell it.”

Budruck’s brown eyes fidgeted like two the two last beer nuts you find at the bottom of a dingy bowl at a dive. Nobody ever takes those last two nuts.

“Won’t the public grow bored?” said Leich. “They’re more interested in Ezmerelda Gibbons. If Paul Van Kleason was murdered, maybe she did it?”

“She’s not the type.”

“Why not?”

“She just isn’t, okay? And besides I talked with her former neighbor, who confirmed that she was blasting Doughbelly Stray at the estimated time of death! In fact, her neighbor has video with a time-stamp. Some long-standing beef over the noise she made that she was going to submit to the property manager, but never did.”

“Well, maybe Ezmeredlda hired someone to kill Van Kleason.”

“Why would she do that? He paid her generously for her private services. She had a good thing going on. You don’t kill the guy who’s serving up the gravy train.”

“Well, who do you think did it?”

“I believe this is connected to certain publicists in the publishing industry. Do you know Bill Flogaast?”

Leich began to sweat. While Budruck was looking out the window, he reached for the hammer and concealed it behind his back.

“I’m…somewhat acquainted with him.”

“Well, Flogaast is connected to some real creeps.”

Budruck busted out his phone, feverishly swiping with his twitchy finger before settling upon something, and then held up a grainy black-and-white photo for Leich to examine on the display. It was Flogaast alright. And he was shaking that man with the burgundy tie’s hand on what looked like the East Village. Flogaast had an attache case in his other hand.

“What’s this?”

“A still from security camera footage that I bought off a line cook. You see? That’s Flogaast. There’s clearly something going on here. I’m still trying to determine the identity of this man with the burgundy tie.”

“And why doesn’t the police have a copy of this?”

“Because the surveillance footage was conveniently erased. Although it actually wasn’t. And somehow this line cook, who has something on the restaurant owner, was able to get a copy of this. To the best of my knowledge, the police don’t have a copy of it. And neither does Ali Breslin.”

A gleam of hope rushed across Budruck’s face.

“Don’t you see, Dave? This is my big story. My scoop! I’ve always had this in me.”

Leich paced along the edge of the living room, his right arm still carrying the hammer behind his back. His left hand fingered the spotless surface of one of the living room bookshelves. Then he sat down on the Morris chair directly across from the settee and crossed his legs, his left foot twitching with celerity.

“What do you really know about people?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You have some interesting ideas. But what do you really know about people?”

“These are more than ideas, Dave! Don’t you see? With what I’ve been able to piece together, the two of us can get our revenge against these publishing assholes! Van Kleason was going to go public! I think he was going to cut a deal with the Feds because they tied him to the sex trafficking ring. He was going to be a friendly witness for a reduced sentence!”

“Come on, Herbert. Think this thing through. Why would he bite the hand that feeds him? His last novel had an enormous print run.”

“Because he wanted to save his marriage.”

“What?”

“Sophie Van Kleason carried on several affairs. I know this because I bribed a bellboy who used to work at the Atlantis Hotel, where Sophie was a regular. In fact, this bellboy even saw Mike Harvest enter a room with her!”

“Mike Harvest.”

“Yeah, I know he doesn’t like your books. But think clearly. This bellboy saw Sophie and Mike Harvest leaving a hotel room on the very afternoon of the murder. And guess who was with them?”

“Who?”

“The man in the burgundy tie!”

He pulled up another photo on his phone.

“Don’t you see? This is the same guy who met up with Flogaast!”

Leich studied the two photos.

“I’ll admit that there are certain similarities. But you never answered my question.”

“What question?”

“How well do you know people?”

“Fairly well.”

“But not well enough to be taken seriously as a journalist.”

“What?”

“Do you believe that everyone has something dark within them?”

“Probably.”

“That everyone has the capacity for evil? Oh sure, it spills out in chunks. You use your contacts to prevent your enemy from landing a prestigious job. You cut off some asshole on the road. But that’s just small time, Herbert. Just small time.”

“What I have here is big time.”

“I don’t think it is,” said Leich. His voice grew increasingly chillier. “What do you know about me?”

“Well, you’re the last literary Dave. You’ve won a bunch of awards.”

“That’s all true. But what kind of dark unfettered qualities do you think I possess?”

“That’s your business.”

Leich laughed.

“Let me phrase it another way. What’s the worst thing that you think I’ve ever done?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re not even going to hazard a guess?”

“Well, a lot of people think you’re an asshole.”

“Oh, but I am. But I’m more than a mere asshole. Do you want to know what happened to the last person who sat on that couch?”

“She ended up in your bedroom,” laughed Budruck with the greatest naivete that Leich had seen in five years.

“No,” laughed Leich. “Not at all. It was a man.”

“Hey, I’m not going to judge. However you swing is your business.”

“I didn’t fuck him,” said Leich. “I killed him.”

Leich lodged the hammer into Budruck’s skull. Budruck was too surprised to scream. Then he swung again and again, the blood shooting in geysers and mottling Leich’s face, until the mediocre journalist was dead.

He picked up his burner phone and dialed the number.

“Yeah,” said the gruff voice on the other end.

“The situation has been contained.”

“Do you need us to come by?”

“No, I’ve got this.”

“Are you sure? I can call six of my vacuum cleaning guys.”

“I kind of want to try this myself. My Shark Navigator Lift-Away Deluxe really could use a good workout.”

“But we’re professionals. I think you’ll find that the mess in your apartment is harder to clean than you think.”

“I’ll give you a call if my vacuum gets clogged.”

Leich hung up the phone and, as he was considering how to get rid of the body, he heard the squeal of another rat caught in a trap.

(Next: The Talk)

(Word count: 37,011/50,000)

The Scandal of Unfettered Speech (NaNoWriMo 2022 #17)

(Start from the Beginning: The Dead Writer)

(Previously: The Public Eye)

Brad Carmody (1977-2027) was a lot of formers. He was a former reporter at Advertising Age, a former editor at Medium, a former senior writer at Wired, and a former regular contributor to Vox before starting this Substack newsletter in desperation after he experienced great difficulties landing work as a freelance writer. Yes, it’s true that Brad was difficult at times and felt the need to obsess a little too much over other media figures on social media, but he was one of the most vital conservative voices in American letters. Nobody knew if he was on track to becoming the next William Buckley or the next Alex Jones, but his vitriolic columns were always must-reads. He was often angry, but in the right way. On the rare occasions when he calmed himself down, he was an accomplished blueberry waffle king in the kitchen. Say what you like about Brad (and many of the people he publicly attacked will certainly have their opinions), but he really knew how to use a waffle maker! So this is a huge and deeply tragic loss — not just for Brad’s family, but also for men with middling breakfast-making skills.

His widow graciously permitted us to publish this final essay from Brad. It was found on the tablet next to his dead body. Please consider contributing to the Brad Carmody GoFundMe, as the Carmody family experienced great financial difficulties in Brad’s final years due to his regrettable OnlyFans addiction — particularly his fixation on Ezmerelda Gibbons.

In addition to his wife and his fifteen-year-old juvenile delinquent son, Brad is survived by his brother, Killian, who is now the proud manager of a Burger King in Erie, Pennsylvania, finding a new life after experiencing an unfortunate mental collapse because he couldn’t finish his dissertation on narrative tropes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We offer our thoughts and prayers.

And, remember, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. You are loved by more people than you know!

The Scandal of Unfettered Speech
by Brad Carmody
The JCPenney Chronicles, October 17, 2027

Last May, noted intellectual Martin Slabak appeared at the 92nd Street Y and used a term so infamous that it caused members of the audience to walk out “in a state of fear.” The word he used was “stupid.”

Now the origin of “stupid” goes back to the 1540s. It comes from the Latin stupidus, meaning “amazed, confused; dull, foolish.” It literally translates into “struck senseless.” From there, the French picked it up and all the other Indo-European languages followed. As any sensible person knows, “stupid” has had a long and glorious run.

On stage, Slabak called his ex-wife Emma Silverburg “stupid.” He called Senator Rob Rollins “stupid.” He was even courageous enough to call himself “stupid” for fathering two children with a stupid woman. And he condemned the epidemic of stupidity that has, even as I write these words, become so ubiquitous in our culture that numerous people are now openly copulating in public places and our now unregulated airwaves prominently feature once thoughtful anchors engaging in variations of “The Aristocrats” routine on-air.

But now the word is apparently offensive. And at a McNally Jackson appearance just a few weeks later, a group called Intellectuals Raise A Tedious Egofest (“IRATE” for short) disrupted a party for the latest issue of x+1 by pelting Slabak with dozens of eggs (which, given inflation, surely cost them a fortune) and told Slabak that he was the one who was insensitive.

I think we can all agree that IRATE is a domestic terrorism group — no different from the epidemic of ugly, childless, and unmarried cat ladies who continue to vote Democrat after getting their monthly payments from George Soros. It’s on the same level of al Qaeda, but with a different list of moral objections. IRATE represents the same unattractive mix of quavering personal sensitivity and totalitarian demands for ideological conformity.

As the most brilliant man on this planet, I’ve had my own unpleasant dust-ups with these unruly socialists. A professor at George Washington University once called me a “cockroach” after I flew to Greenland on my own dime to see if climate change was, in fact, a real thing. During a fierce rainstorm in Tasiilaq, where I had to buy boots and a poncho at the last minute, I still stuck to my guns and insisted, even as the town was five feet underwater, that climate change was one of those crazy liberal conspiracies. I put myself out there. And, for this, I was called a “cockroach.”

So I telephoned this professor and screamed at him for ten minutes. And this professor, who actually believes that critical race theory should be taught in classrooms, wasn’t man enough to shout back at me! Can you believe that this Marxist son of a bitch, this deplorable metrosexual who believes that it’s just peachy keen for men to get pedicures and for children to change their pronouns, never once raised his voice? I called him “stupid, oh so fucking stupid,” slammed down the phone, and proceeded to binge-eat a large box of White Castle sliders that my wife had the foresight to pick up for those occasions in which I get very angry reading things online.

I’m feeling nostalgic for the old days in which you could use the word “stupid.” Personally, I blame uppity women for this new age of hypersensitivity. We rightfully took away their reproductive rights and cited 17th century legal precedents to put them in their place. And they still called us stupid. We helpfully informed women with PhDs in English Literature that Virginia Woolf was the author of Mrs. Dalloway and they called us mansplainers!

I’m misting up right now remembering the good old days when your wife would make you a sandwich and never speak up while you watched a football game. You could slap your wife on the ass like James Bond and tell her to go away when a friend showed up for a “man talk” session. 1964, which was before my time, was the last time in American history in which you could be a real man and call people stupid. And if I lived back then, I’d probably get more action in the bedroom instead of the yearly ten minute ceremony my wife and I perform on our wedding anniversary.

But there was a time, a brief time sometime around the early 21st century, when you could still call people “stupid” on the old social media platform Twitter. You could even tell anyone who was smarter than you to fuck off forever. While it lasted, Twitter was a sewer. It brought out the worst in humanity. I again sincerely apologize for any part I played it making it worse, although I greatly enjoyed hurting people and allowing my unmedicated indignation to fly its freak flag.

But now we can’t call people “stupid” anymore. And if we can’t do that, then I have no real reason to live.

So this is my final Substack column. I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me to own the libs over the years. We came very close to overthrowing the capital on January 6th, but, in the end, the Democrats continued to steal all the elections. And now the burden of being me is simply too much to bear. There’s no place for me in the zeitgeist anymore. And I’ve grown tired of busting out the Adorime pump from the closet two times a day.

And while I may not have the will to live, you do, my fellow patriots! There is a place for you out there, somewhere, where you can be truly free! You can still buy guns and walk around states with open-carry laws. You can still invite that annoying neighbor onto your property, shoot him in the head, and hire a good defense attorney to uphold the castle doctrine. You can still count on a Supreme Court — even with two of the Justices recently assassinated — that will uphold the old ways. The only ways.

Brad Carmody, not a cockroach, logging off.

(Next: The Dark Soul)

(Word count: 34,405/50,000)

This chapter is dedicated to noted media asshole Tim Carmody, who fucked around and found out. (The coward even deleted the below tweet. I’m not on Twitter anymore and am quite delighted to see that toxic site bite the dust under Elon Musk’s disastrous watch, but a friend had forwarded this to me.)