Kicking aside a skull, G. Gordon Gordon edged up to the large, black, iron door and rang the buzzer. Flies hovered around the bullet-pocked metal, attracted to the dried bits of blood and hair that had been splashed across its surface. Finding Palmer Vreedees' studio had taken up the better part of a week, a week Gordon didn't have to spare.
After ten seconds or so, Gordon decided the buzzer was "out of order", like most things in San Francisco these days. He began hammering against the thick plating with the butt of his silver-plated, Redhawk double-action .44.
"Vreedees, you green-shanked, pipe sucking thief, where the fuck is my painting? Open up or you'll get the Rothko treatment!" Gordons' impatient bellowing could be heard all the way down the narrow, filth-encrusted alley that Vreedees' door led off of. All the way to South Howard street. Gordon didn't care. It didn't matter if anyone heard him, they wouldn't bother to investigate. After what had happened last Christmas with Jesus' disastrous "second coming", it would have taken an equally mystic nightmare to catch the attention of the few surviving community police. They had become quite cautious. They wanted to live.
After hurling several more choice threats to no visible effect, Gordon decided to take a more direct approach in order to gain entry. The door was the only feature in the five story, concrete wall. The dark metal was set flush with the surface, with the portal only openable from the interior. There was no kind of knob, handle or lock to mar the tantric rune outlined by heavy reinforced riveting.
Reaching into his coat, Gordon took a small, white vial full of "dragon snot" from a vest pocket and began carefully pouring gooey runners of the home-made plastic explosive down both sides of the door frame. Spreading a thin strand along the top, he connected these borders with a wipe of his thumb, hooked a matchbook sized detonator to the plastique and backed twenty feet down the alley, flattening out against the same wall the door shared. Taking out a pen-shaped radio-control for the detonator, Gordon muttered, "This one's for Janor." Keeping his mouth wide open, he tapped a contact solenoid twice and his small action was answered by a sizable explosion. Hearing the door blow off and clang against the far wall, he paused, waiting for the cloud of dust, shrapnel and concrete chunks to settle.
Gordon decided against the .44 and reholstered it. "No," Gordon thought, "this calls for something more--more traditional. Dr. Vreedees would appreciate the right tool for the right job."
He pulled his Ingram M11 from the shoulder sling and checked the clip.
Taking off his Raybans, Gordon walked back to the ragged, smoking hole he had created and invited himself into Palmer's nest.
The foyer, a dingy, square, cinderblock chamber, was unlit. In the small amount of illumination from the alleyway, Gordon made out a rusty, iron, spiral staircase that rose into blackness.
Out of the gloom above, Vreedees' drug-ravaged voice hailed, "Gordon, sweetheart, what brings you to California? Hey, good to see you! How's the wife?"
"Never mind her, you aborted son of Onan! I paid you a goddamned advance on my painting and I WANT IT!" Gordon paused, chose his next words carefully. "Besides, I still owe you three hundred dollars on the job."
Palmer laughed, "Three hundred dollars? Dollars? Not worth the paper they're printed on, I'm afraid. Now, if you had three hundred SubGenius pamphlets we could do some serious talking. I hear the going price for a healthy child on the street is a mere two P, now think what that painting's going to go for out in the free marketplace."
Gordon raised his voice a notch, smoothed his tone and introduced a low amount of SALES into his sly inflection. "OK, OK. So, no Bulldadashit. I'll get some pamphlets, if that's what you want." Gordon didn't trust Vreedees. Ten years of Brazilian emerald dealing had taught him where trust inevitably led to. And of course, Gordon expected treachery sheerly as a matter of style where the duplicitous Vreedees was concerned. Too many past deals with the rogue ascetic had gone sour in the most surprisingly unpleasant ways.
Gordon was still paying off the lawyers for that job he'd handled for Vreedees back in '92, setting demo packs all through the Keith Haring opening at MOMA. True to form, once the building had been blown to atoms, Vreedees sucked up all the credit for "the brilliant statement on visual, commodity fetishism", as The Times had said in their glowing review, and vanished, leaving Gordon somehow responsible for the criminal charges.
"Painting? Art? Gordon, honeybear, no one does 'art' anymore! 'Art's' been replaced by religion. Or food. You should know that better than anybody. How about a nice can of Safeway peaches? With a label? That's worth about five hundred-thousand bucks these days on the black-mart. California Federation currency isn't even toilet paper, I burn it to keep warm," Palmer cackled. "Hey, step over near the stairs so's I can get a look at you. Still dressin' in those alpaca sweat-suits? Gosh, I'm glad you came. You know, I don't get much company these days."
"Bloody, goddamned, Conspiracy quacks! ", the Yetinsyny assassin cursed disgustedly to himself as he gave his body a quick internal scan. Most of the inner-eye, LCD's were still showing power-down status. About the only thing giving a trustworthy read-out was the time. "Three-fifteen," fumed Gordon. "I should be back at the St. Francis starting on my Goddamned, fourth bloody-mary by now instead of playing games with this saucer-riding, Yeti moron."
Ever since the St. Louis siege, the Con med-techs had been trying to regrow half his combat circuits without much success. The M-16 round that'd nicked his neck in Drummonds' office sent thousands of microscopic ceramic shards deep into his upper vertebra, damaging and fusing the hardware lines beyond simple repair. After a dozen painful operations, most of his bio-electronics were still dysfunctional. Gordon didn't dare use his shields at even quarter-power, without risking a massive stroke. It also meant that switching to infra-red, targeting optics was out. The sapper relied now on his own habitual caution to keep himself alive.
Gordon tossed a box of Sherman's cigarettellos at the first step. Before it even hit the floor, a thin red beam of light flicked down from overhead and speared it. The smokes burst into flame, filling the space with a pungent odor.
"Aw, Gordon, you know those are my preferred brand. They don't even make them anymore. You got any idea what tobacco costs this far up the coast?" Vreedees' voice trailed off in a fit of coughing and hacking. There were some wet, unhealthy sounding grunts and then the insane Mediocretin took up his taunting again.
"I started your painting, anyway, RoboDope. That's better than most of my 'clients' get. What more do you want? You never did tell me how to ship it down to Green Hell. What do you use down there for delivery service, donkeys? I trust no painting to donkeys, man. Jeez, it's beautiful, though. What a portrait. Your sceptum, in full color, as fresh as the day the Space Doctors sliced it out of you. You should see the damn thing. Haven't touched it in months. Waiting for the right light, you know. Can't just paint any old day."
"Look here, you bargain basement Warhol," Gordon snapped, "I received one lousy, color xerox in the mail five years ago. I'm here for some real art. If I can't have my canvas, I'll settle for that five-sided tattoo of Dobbs that you've got on your backside, the one Connie can't stop talking about, skin and all! I'll make a lampshade out of it and read your comic books by the light!" Gordon let off a half-dozen rounds into the dark, just for effect.
"G.G., baby, if I'd known you were so mad, I'd have flown down with the pic myself and delivered it to you in person. Come on up. No tricks, I promise."
"Don't forget, Vreedees, if you nail me, I have my operatives, and Palmer, Palmer, some of them aren't even human. I'm stepping out," Guy called. He pushed two gas filters into his plastic nose, made sure his catch on his throwing-knife sheath was undone, armed three thermite grenades and made his way upstairs.
With half-destroyed chip-gyroscopes fighting inner-ear canals for control of balance, Gordon tried to shake off the vertigo that climbing five flights of circling stairway was producing. The computerized, wet-wired stabilizers in his chest kept throwing his feet in the wrong direction, making the ascent dangerously slow. Only a few, short months ago, the Foundation executioner would have been able to tango up the thin hand-railing on one foot with eyes closed. Now every slow revolution in the coiling platform left him feeling faintly nauseous from the errant signals of his malfunctioning gyros' micro-oscillations. At the top, Palmer Vreedees waited in his eyries' doorway, cradling a bulky K-12 field laser mounted with an IF scope. The figure was silhouetted by bluish television light flickering from somewhere inside the guarded room.
Finally reaching the upper platform, Gordon paused to regard his former "friend." Even in the dim, phosphorescent glow, Vreedees looked like a hell-bound shell of his past self, standing shakily on two, cadaverous pipe-cleaner legs, bracing the weight of the tac-torch against a bundled stack of molding comic books. He was swimming in a shredded, black rayon, cop dress shirt that hung low enough to make up for his absence of pants. Attached to the badge clip was a silver star that said "ART POLICE." Vreedees face was something else again.
The eyes were sunken in, with no whites showing at all. Whatever drugs he was taking had permanently dilated his pupils all the way out, out to total black, the dull, vacuous jet of Xist space. No wonder he had never taken off those mirrored sunglasses. The gringo chin-strip Palmer'd always worn was about two feet long and his head was shaved into one-inch strips, front to back. His skin was a sallow pasty-white and hung about his pock-marked face in loose folds. Gordon didn't think anyone could be so thin and still live. The mercenary had seen a lot of starvation in the Omaha camps and he was still taken aback.
Palmer extended a wasted hand in greeting to his visitor. When his offer of false courteousness was ignored, Vreedees shrugged, turned and wearily shuffled into the warehouse loft. Gordon followed the piteous creature inside.
The "studio" was a shambles. Broken, torn canvases were scattered about the floor in greasy puddles of unidentifiable liquids. Pieces of broken computers and electronic gear lay everywhere. The huge, windowless, concrete room stank of sweat, smoke and turpentine. The air was stale. Broken ampules of dangerous narcotics were strewn around.
One whole corner was occupied almost to the ceiling by a tangle of snapped brushes, ammo clips, circuit boards, yellowing bones, rolled-up paint tubes, mummified dogs, used condoms, bits of photographs, printouts, and just plain garbage, composing an assemblage that Francis Bacon would have been proud of. This Augean squalor was lit by a flickering fluro-tube and two small TV monitors, both facing a wall. Gordon could faintly hear a tinny speaker playing "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" from somewhere deep in the chaotic pile.
"Welcome, welcome to the salon, mon patron, . . . my sanctum sanctorum," said the emaciated Vreedees, casually tossing aside his weapon. He hopped around Gordon, making exaggerated low bows, bits of plastic and glass crunching underneath his bare feet. As he spun about, the back of his shirt revealed a dark circle of dried blood centered with an ugly shot-gun hole.
"But wait. You're tired. Here you've come all this way and I tease you. You must think me a terrible host. Care for some refreshment?" Vreedees offered with sarcastic politeness. "A drink? Food? -- Sex?"
"Good Christ, Palmer," Gordon exclaimed, "you should take better care of yourself. You know what happened to Hughes. What a mess he was. All those tubes and bags. And look at these candy bar wrappers. You've been living on speed and sugar."
"Oh-ho, better than speed, Gordon," said the crazed anti-artist with a sick, dreamy grin. His smile revealed a row of broken and rotting, yellow teeth. The gums appeared ulcerous, almost black. "Better than PILS. Better than anything. Those po' bucker aliens got shit that makes meth look like, well-- never mind that. It's worth it. Yeah, well worth it. Helps me think --better." Palmer exploded in a fit of corrosive coughing, brownish sputum flying from his white lips.
Gordon was disgusted. This manic, capering skeleton barely resembled the healthy, asocial Neo-Dadaist he remembered. "Yeah, sure, Slim. Look in a mirror real soon. I can remember when you didn't even touch decaffeinated coffee. Don't you ever get scared? In case you forgot, mammal, your new 'pals' --they're insects! You've been shooting up roach crap! What the pink-hell does that bug dust help your gaseous brain think better about ?"
"I can really SEE now. I mean it, Gordon. This' the same stuff they gave Satan, and you know how He acted. I see. See all kinds of things. See things you can't see with eyes, with even those synthetic ping-pong balls you use. Nice things. Interesting things. I see them all the time, now. Best of all, I understand what I'm seeing. I'm not high. I can't even really say I'm having a 'good time'. Or a 'bad time'. Temporally speaking, I guess you could say I'm not having a 'time' at all. It's just that --well, it's the line, you know, the line has dissolved. I'm not talkin' about the four-brained division that Dobbs seems to think is so important. That profane shithead's still hung up on flesh, spirit and soul --all the mud, the fuckin' meat. That fluff doesn't matter. 'Doorway to Doom.' Ha! 'Bob's' way off the mark! You can't open the lock without the right key. I'm into real alchemical breakdown. Convulsive. Infallible. Final."
"Oh, yes, yes. You could too, though. See them," Palmer said gleefully, dancing about Gordon. Bloody tears pooled at the corners of his dark, opaque orbs, ran down his pocked cheeks. The trails of poisonous-looking, reddish liquid stood out in grim contrast against ghostly, semi-transparent flesh. "We can see the things together. I've got enough to do both of us. It's not a drug, you know. Not technically, anyway. Want some?" Palmer produced a wrinkled baggie filled with a dirty-grey powder and a corroded hypodermic, giggling, "First one's free."
"I've just about 'seen' enough, Vreedees. You're fuckin' Death-on-a-stick."
"Just leave me the pic in the will, suicide-boy. Your lungs sound like a bad day on the cancer floor. The way you're career's going, I don't think you're going to last much lon---"
Then Gordon saw it.
The painting was nailed to the far wall. It was small, perhaps two feet square, held in place by four railroad spikes pounded through the corners, deep into the cement. In spite of the pornographic, multi-color, layered graffiti that was sprayed across the four walls and ceiling of the dark abode, the canvas--Gordon's canvas stood out as if a half-dozen mini-spots were lighting it. He felt like the art had been suddenly pinned to his eyeballs with a shaft of lightning. Magic! Its hyperphysical surface glowed with life!
Palmer had said it wasn't even finished. Gordon, spellbound, kicked the mess on the floor aside, brushed past the almost blind visionary. He had to get closer. It was magnificent!
"Why--why it's beautiful," Gordon whispered, "how did you do it?"
The colors in the translucent imagery seemed to be burning with fire, as if from some inner light, radiance blazing and flaring outward from the oil. It was drawing him in, relentlessly overpowering his rational thought processes. Arabesque interactions of the composition seduced his visual center, directing his pupils effortlessly with their prepensive tracings. He was bedazzled by the intricate, swirling detail, which seemed to contain teasing hints of unknowable truths. No matter how near he drew, the superfine resolution of the minutinous, brush strokes endlessly increased.
His arms began to feel heavy as he fell under the pictures' intoxicating sway. Gordon let go of the Ingram, heard it distantly clatter to the floor.
It was now impossible for G. Gordon Gordon to take his eyes away from the image. He couldn't move his feet. He felt the loft start to spin around him. Still, his vertiginous mind was locked to the hypnotic artwork, even while his eyelids began to close. As he passed out, he heard the insane, mocking laughter of Vreedees.
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