THE TEMPESTUOUS SEX LIFE OF IVAN STANG
by St. Palmer Vreedeez ( AFTER JIM THOMPSON )
Ivan tossed and turned on his cramped and rumpled bed. It was the early part of the day -- he knew that much -- and his long night with The Pinkies had taken its inevitable toll on his exhausted body. "What I need now," he mumbled to himself, "is a good cup of coffee." But he knew that in the sour-smelling and cramped quarters of his tiny apartment not so much as a single crystal of freeze-dried caffeine could be found.
He groaned as he looked back over his shoulder at the dismembered bodies of Japans' leading rockers. "It seemed like a OK idea at the time, but now I have to clean up the bathroom again. Shit." Sex did seem to be more trouble than it was worth.
The buzzing of flies drew his eyes once again to the objects on the floor. Three pairs of pink shoes, a pink hairband and the big, pink guitar straps. The thought of anything pink made him shiver. The straps were all tangled up in the blade of his brand-new, twenty-four inch, Toro "Log Master" chainsaw, a birthday gift from the guys in the Little Rock office.
He really needed that coffee. The foul liquid down at the SubGenius Foundation barely kept him conscious. Mr. Coffee machines could never compete with the quart or so of black espresso that he always started his day with.
As the hot, morning air from his cracked window blew through his thinning hair he felt the red mists beginning to lift. Even as they did, he also began to long for some chips: potato, taco, fried pork rinds -- anything, as long as it crunched, was salty. The doctors had warned him to avoid salt. Ivan never paid attention to those quacks. What did they know? They told him to quit cigarettes, too. Well, he had, thanks to that monstrous hypodermic needle they'd slipped behind his ear. That's when the red mists first appeared and the blank spells had begun.
The new day was going to be warm. It was already over ninety degrees and not even eleven thirty. Ivan began to salivate. He wished that Connie had never left. She was gone, taking their Sony trinitron with her. Back to that S.O.B., Dobbs, again, no doubt.
She had booked months ago, her moving out followed quickly by his sudden demotion at the Foundation. Her jealous mate had lost no time in exacting retribution from the unlucky Ivan. Everything went in a single afternoon: money, status, power, love. Pushed all the way from from his Presidents' penthouse office suite in the smoked-glass SubGenius Temple highrise on Elm Street, down to an old desk in the subscription department of the very church he had helped found with Connie's husband, that grinning, pipe-smoking jackal, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs.
A dream. That's all it had been. And now. . .
Stang rummaged through a pile of dirty clothes, paperback sci-fi novels and crumpled computer print-outs on the floor of his efficiency kitchenette trying to find something without bloodstains. Finally selecting an almost clean pair of black jeans and a wrinkled T-shirt bearing the legend, "Soviet Party Monster", he dressed his thin frame quickly and pulled on a set of worn, day-glo green, Converse hightops. Hungry, he slugged down a mouthful of warm Gatorade and ate half an old, partially melted candy bar he found on his stove. Giving his coke-bottle glasses a final polish with his filthy shirt, he felt ready to face another hellishly hot, Texas, noon-day sun and went out the door.
He nodded hello to the Vietnamese gardener outside who endlessly raked and re-raked the concrete-hard, oil-stained dirt in the apartment's front yard and let himself into the basement. Watching the poor fellow pointlessly working away at the dead ground momentarily cheered Stang up. "Might as well try to grow peas on the moon," he chuckled, "Probably was on the last chopper out of Ho Chi Minh City. What a chump. Bet he ends up owning half of downtown." Despite his own desperate situation, Stang throve on frustration. Humming the opening theme from "The Sabre Dance", Ivan got his three-speed, girls' bicycle from the condo's garage and set off for work.
"The Pinkies deserved it," he thought dejectedly, his temporary elation swiftly dissolving in the Dallas heat as he rode down the block. "Tofu, indeed." It made him sick. Just the idea of having that formless, white glop, from soybeans, no less, fermenting in bed with him was enough to set him off, even now.
"Cow food. Hell, you were supposed to eat cows, not roll around naked in their feed. If only the girls had understood about chips. Another disappointment as it had turned out. Three disappointments, actually," Ivan recalled. But The Pinkies had lasted all night and he guessed they had been lots more fun than the occasional hitchhiker he brought "home."
The short ride to his office was usually a pleasant one, but without the bracing of his normal java jolt, Ivan felt the day had already gotten off to a bad start. His breakfast wasn't sitting in his stomach too well and there was another skull-busting headache beginning in the back of his head. At least he had some action the night before, if he could only remember. That was the problem, he never did remember. He just pulled clean-up duty once a week for some swell orgy that always lay just beyond his recall. When the mist settled over his brain, he was a blank. Before and after, sure, every detail was there, but once he began to get a little excited -- nada. Ivan supposed nobody would miss The Pinkies for a couple of days, giving him enough time to dispose of them in his usual way. It had been a risk picking them up from their hotel, but he had been careful and was fairly certain no one had seen them all leave together. It wouldn't do to be tripped up by simple sexual greed
"Too bad Philo transferred to the St. Louis branch, Drummond would have known what to do about the tofu, about the bodies. He loves that Japanese electro-pop junk. Man, we sure used to kick some shit before 'Bob' got on my case," Ivan mused, as he narrowly missed running down a old woman who had foolishly dared to venture into his path. Normally he would have at least given her a good boot just to keep her light on her toes. Today his preoccupation with his fallen fortune kept him from using the proper, western road etiquette. Like any true Texan, he hated pedestrians. Now he was almost three-quarter-pedestrian himself since his rights to a company car and a gas card had been pulled due to "cutbacks" in the office. Arriving at the SubGenius Foundations' main, mail-handling center, Stang peddled his way through the field of broken glass and rusty beer cans in the parking lot and hopped off his bike with a tired sigh. He took care to chain it up to the "no parking" sign by the front door where he could keep an eye on it from his desk. The office occupied several connecting storefronts in a small, run-down shopping plaza that had definitely seen more prosperous times in the past. A boarded-up Skaggs' Drugstore was the Foundations' closest neighbor.
The only business that seemed to be doing well in the area was a Wellman's Fried Chicken franchise down the street that doubled as a market for the local rock peddlers. None of them were over twelve years of age and any one of them brought home several thousand more a month than Ivan would ever see in his meager pay slip. Still, he took lunch there several times a week because he admired their gift of salesmanship and enjoyed watching their youthful competition. Once he had a found a greasy, twenty-dollar bill on the floor in the dining area and had received a loud chorus of of sarcastic jeers from the junior street-capitalists when he had pocketed it. You weren't going to catch any of those smart-ass players joining the Church of the SubGenius.
Remembering just how late he was (again!), Ivan pushed open the front door with his shoulder and slid inside, trying not to catch the eye of Mrs. Jones, the manager. All he wanted to do was reach his desk, without provoking another confrontation with her over his refusal to use the time-clock. The time-clock! That had been one of his bright ideas a couple of years ago, installing those damn things. He had joked about "real Time Control" to Dobbs, convincing the Board that it would save them thousands in wasted overtime pay. Was there to be no end to his humiliation?
"Is that you, Reverend Stang?" As he slid into his chair, he heard the less than mellifluous tones of Mrs. Jones' grating voice hailing him from the back of the office. "I know you're on salary, but, just the same, we must set an example for the others that manage to actually work here." Facing the front of the building, Ivan could feel the resentful stares of his co-workers on the back of his neck. It wasn't his fault that he was here. He couldn't even resign. That bastard, Dobbs, had made that much clear. If he ever tried to quit, certain files would find their way to the police and the IRS.
He decided not to answer Jones' smirking taunts, reaching instead into his top drawer for the package of extra-strength Excedrin he kept there. His headache was now reaching the rich, full bloom of a mushroom cloud, expanding and pushing against the sides of his skull with the pressure of a total nuclear exchange. Fumbling with the plastic cap, he managed to spill the contents of the economy-size bottle all over his desk with an audible clatter. It sounded like a cascade of metal boulders to his pained ears. With trembling hands, he scooped up a handful of the white tablets and chewed them up, heedless of the bitter taste, washing them down with day-old coffee from a styrofoam cup. Ivan brushed the rest of the pills back into the drawer, wincing as he slammed it shut on his fingers. His head was pounding so badly he didn't even notice that his telephone had been ringing for a couple of minutes.
Wiping the tears from his suffering, glazed eyes, he finally realized that the phone light was blinking on and off. He stared at it, slowing his breathing down to its' rhythm, letting the tiny, flashing button hypnotically tranquilize him. Having restored a state resembling calmness (relative only to himself, of course), Stang weakly answered the insistent phone.
"Hello. SubGenius Foundation, subscription room complaints desk. May I help you?"
"Yes. I'd like to speak to Reverend Ivan Stang," requested a voice whose inotation radiated all business and no pleasure. "I understand that he's been transferred to this department."
"T-t-this is Reverend Stang," the former Sub-executive stammered, positive that one of the many collection agencies that'd been dogging him the past year, had at last tracked him down.
"Reverend Stang, this is Douglass Sinclair from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission. I was wondering if you could come down to our office and talk to me later this afternoon. It seems that certain-- irregularities have come to light concerning the Foundations' stock and investment transactions in the years '84 through '87 and your signature apparently makes you out to be the authorizing agent on these documents."
Ivan sank back into the cheap, plastic chair and began to nervously fiddle with the phone cord. "I-I- uh, documents? I, uh, I'm not sure I-"
"Oh, we're positive that its nothing that can't be cleared up in a short time," Sinclair said, in a falsely soothing tone. "We just couldn't balance the monetary transfer loans from the SubGenius Credit Union to purchases of stock made by you of Gordon Enterprises. Gordon is currently under investigation for defrauding the federal government on defense contracting and we'll go with an indictment as soon as we get a transfer of records from their Zurich bank. I might add that Internal Revenue is interested in those records, too. The figures you gave us just don't seem to match up to the disclosure requirements, and, as you know-"
"No. I don't know," Ivan said abruptly, cutting the federal auditor short. He felt the fingers on his right hand grow numb and looked down to discover that he had absently wound the plastic cord tightly around his wrist, making the fingertips turn white from the cut off of blood. As he unwrapped his tingling hand, his elbow caught the phone squarely on its side, sending it crashing to the floor.
"Mr. Stang, this is not a circus! If you don't feel well, perhaps you should go home and stop showing off how moody you are," Mrs. Jones barked at him from behind her desk console.
"Get off my back, asshole," Ivan shouted in answer, realizing too late that he was still holding the handset of the phone to his mouth.
"No, no. Not you, Mr. Sinclair. It was some other -- I mean, uh. No. Oh, Jesus, no. Yes. Yes. I understand. I'm sorry. Hey, I said I was sorry! Well, the same to you, pal. Look, I'm sure we can straighten all this out. I'll get back to you as soon as I consult with my lawyer," Ivan apologized, adding ruefully to himself, "If I can afford one."
"Just make sure you bring all your records with you, 'Reverend' Stang," acidly hissed the tinny voice from the speaker, ending the conversation with an abrupt 'click'.
Ivan picked the phone up from the ugly, yellow and brown linoleum floor and began to cry. He felt horrible and the headache was beginning to crawl back to the surface of his brain, pinging and knocking around in his head like some broken carburetor.
"I haven't done anything to deserve this," he thought despondently. "What's happening to me? I never acted like this before. It's almost as if there-there's someone out to get me, just beyond my reach. I know it." He massaged his bruised fingers, swallowed a couple more aspirin and turned to look at Jones.
She was staring at him with an irritated glare. From the time Ivan had been transferred to this backwater department by the spiteful Dobbs, the elderly Mrs. Jones had been his burden to bear. Running her ten-person section with an iron fist, the office manager was no stranger to the workings of organized religion. Office gossip reported that she had come to The Stark Fist of Removal, the official Church newsletter, subscription branch with the personal recommendation of Jimmy Swaggart, one of Dobbs' old drinking buddies from the early days. She knew that his demotion to the lowly complaint desk was some kind of punishment from the top floor and that, no matter what Stang did to provoke her, she had no recourse but to keep him on. Even before she had met him personally, his writings and rants in the Fist has disgusted her with their repellant anti-social attitudes. She didn't like him one bit and made no effort to hide her feelings on the subject.
A memo from "Bob", himself, defined the perimeters for Ivans' conduct, for the both of them, in fact. The two antagonists had settled right away into a protracted battle of nerves fought over the permitted length of coffee breaks and other such minor fronts, with neither side allowed to advance or retreat. Even the oh-so-common duality of their last names, Smith and Jones, must have appealed to Dobbs' sick sense of humor, when he set them against each other.
Glancing around, he saw that his fellow peons in the dingy work-room were diligently bent over their keyboards, all trying to look busy in order to hide their embarrassment at being subjected to his emotional outburst of self pity. Their faces were lit by the flickering, amber light from the computer monitors. The artificial glow spoiled the clumsy illusion of their supposed, SubGenius liberation from worldly concerns; revealed them for what they actually were: vapid, slack-brained Zombies for "Bob." The only sound besides the quiet clicking of their computer keys and the intermittent buzzing of the fluorescent tubes on the ceiling was the whine of a small desk fan, its motor overwhelmed by the task of circulating the thick, humid air.
Stangs' only duty at his "job" was to placate the occasional, dissatisfied church member whenever they called up with their petty traumas about missed issues of the semi-annual periodical. With publication once every year or so, his work load was inappreciable, leaving Ivan with most of his daily routine involved in killing time, unlike the overworked slaves all around him.
"No wonder they hate me," Stang reflected, chewing on a fingernail. "Goddamned robots. Meat sacks. They're jealous. They should be jealous. It's not just anyone that sleeps with Connie Dobbs and lives to talk about it. Not that we ever slept much."
He smiled to himself as he recalled the lazy, spring evenings they had spent together at the beginning of their "secret" affair; the obscene tattoos Connie had over most of her ritually scarred backside; the inane, dinosaur costumes she had insisted they wear before she could freely give herself to him; the funny, little monkey-like grunts she would make as they coupled; how they'd mated for hours in the fashion of mindless insects under the violet gro-lights in the private greenhouse of her husbands' North Dallas mansion.
To take his mind off the miserable afternoon that lay ahead, Ivan returned to one of his favorite tasks, counting the tiny dots on the water-stained, acoustical panels overhead. He had gotten up to almost four thousand when he heard the lunch bell. He had only been at work for a single hour.
In the highly structured routine of The Fists' mail room, everyone was required to take their mid-day meal at the same time, even the bored Stang, despite his otherwise autonomous classification. Most preferred to bring their food from home and eat at their desks. Tardiness in returning from their break meant the docking of an hours' pay by the vigilant Jones. To Ivan, it was a daily chance to escape the numbing ennui of his work-station for at least thirty minutes. On his way out, he paused to fish a copy of The Dallas Morning Star from a nearby wastebasket, tucked it under his arm and headed off to the fried chicken stand.
Worming his way past the crowd of crack dealers outside the fast-food stop, he ignored their softly muttered offers of cheap narcotics and entered the restaurant. The smooth, cool draft from the air-conditioning was soothing to his red, puffy eyes. Pausing to check his money before ordering, Stang realized he had a scant handful of coins to see him through the rest of the week. It was Tuesday. He remembered the three bottles of Saki he had to pick up for The Pinkies. With the new import duties, the rice wine hadn't been cheap.
At the register, he carefully counted out the exact change, and asked the uniformed teen-ager behind the plexiglass hold-up shield for a jumbo bag of french fries and a small cola. She had obviously been sampling the wares from the parking lot and Ivan had to repeat himself four times before she finally seemed to understand what he was talking about. It took the stoned menial ten minutes to fill his simple request, most of her time spent in bafflement over the soft drink machine controls. By the time she had managed to fill a six-ounce cup without spilling half of it, his bag of potatoes had become ice cold. She pushed the food at him through the slot in the scratched plastic barrier with laconic disinterest, slopping his drink over the fries.
"Thank yew, M'am," Stang drawled sarcastically. His comment was lost on the vacant countergirl who had returned to her apparently fascinating study of the floor.
He took his food over to the condiment bins; loaded up the cardboard tray with tiny, complementary packets of free salt; tore a handful of tissue-thin, napkins from the tightly packed metal dispenser and sat down at the only unoccupied table. It was covered with puddles of drying orange drink and cigarette ashes, so he spread out the massive sports section of The Star over the mess and prepared his repast by drenching the soggy frites with salt until they began to resemble the small pieces of cocaine that were being hustled a few feet away. The other customers weren't doing much more than hanging out inside the chilly, refrigerated dining space, trying to stretch out their temporary sanctuary from the oppressive weather by nursing a cup of coffee for as long as could be managed.
Stang began to eat, the loud crunch of the salt producing a slightly painful, yet almost pleasant, sensation as it ground against his old, brittle, dental fillings. Pulling out the rest of his daily, he skimmed the front page and sipped from his drink, aggravated by the revelation that the waxy cup was filled with mostly ice. The headlines were the usual: the continuing riot in Miami between rival Central American armies-in-exile, now in its third week; right-wing, death-squad activities spreading to D.C.; the latest, multi-ship, Russian Mars landing; more administration indictments by the special prosecutor in the AIDS scandal; and Epcot closing a deal for construction of a new Disney World in Beijing.
Reaching the local events, Ivan saw that police had discovered another two elderly victims of what the media had cutely dubbed "The Sledge-Hammer Monster." He'd been following this story with no small interest for the last two months, secretly grateful for Love County's newest serial-killer. The long string of recent, brutal, bludgeon homicides were helping to cover for the growing number of disappearances Stang supposed he was personally responsible for. He couldn't always quite remember what would happen the nights when the mist took him, and the vague memories he did have slowly deteriorated over a few days, fading along with the accompanying migraines. In fact, several of the forgetful Ivans' missing playmates had been mistaken for the work of this other mystery celebrity.
Finishing the article and his meal at the same time, Stang licked the residue of salt, rancid lard and printing ink from his fingers and drained the rest of his syrupy cola. His blood sugar temporarily jacked up by the questionable nourishment of carbohydrates and white sugar, the cleric's spirit was vastly elevated from the first part of his day, leaving him feeling better than he had all week.
Glancing at his watch, he sadly realized another solitary lunch was over and wiped his hands on on a napkin, only to have the cheap paper disintegrate into little pieces of greasy tissue that decorated his skin in repulsive strips. In sudden exasperation, he tried to brush the oily bits off with his shirt and jeans. Stang succeeded only in spreading the sticky wads all over his already grimy clothing. Suppressing an annoyed snarl, Ivan stood up from the table and left before his good mood was lost completely on this latest annoyance.
Stepping outside, the muggy, heated air fell on him like a pack of charismatics on a dollar. He felt his sinus' instantly fill and sneezed as his body tried to respond to the drastic difference in temperature.
"Hey, mofo, what the fuck yo' doin'?", an angry voice asked. Ivan's glasses had suddenly fogged up with condensed moisture and he couldn't quite make out the diminutive blur that had placed itself squarely in his path. Quickly cleaning the eyepieces on his T-shirt, he saw with horror through his oil-streaked lenses one of the adolescent drug jobbers, wearing an expensive, red leather vest that was decorated with a long strand of clear, stringy mucous, thrusting a cheap, nickle-plated, .22 handgun point-blank to his head.
Stang paled, felt his bowels start to loosen and clenched his belly muscles tight. The enraged kid was obviously only a hairsbreadth away from adding a new nostril to Ivans' offending nose. With pupils contracted to black pinpoints, the childish, hate-filled stare froze Ivan solid. A macho code of honor compelled the youngster to answer this serious affront to personal dignity only by terrorizing the transgressor, in this case, the hapless Stang, into total submission. If the trembling Ivan showed anything other than the desired level of fear being sought for peer approval, he could easily be murdered on the spot.
"Fuckin' piece o' shit, look what yo' done," screeched the high-strung, addict in Ivan's face, spittle flying from from his lips. Turning to the gathering crowd of onlookers, the semi-rational boy waved one skinny arm wildly around, playing to the audience, "This dude blew his fuckin' snot over my new outfit. Izzy dead man or what?"
Stang hoped that wasn't a rhetorical question and stuttered, "M-M-Man, oh man, I'm s-sorry about all this. I'll--"
"Shut the fuck up, I ain't talkin' to yo' so jus' shut th' fuck up or I'll blow yo' ass away for sure, Goddamned fuckface'," ordered the irate teen, silencing Ivan with a poke of his weapon.
"Hee, hee. Shoot the dumb fuck," suggested a voice from the rear. "Yeah, do him up," seconded another, setting off a whole choir of echoing demands for an immediate execution.
Ivans' sight followed the end of the waving gun, his mouth bone dry. His whole world, his entire universe was now reduced to the Saturday night specials' shadowed barrel. He could make out minute detail in the edges of the round, hard shaft where it met the black interior of the bore. He discerned microscopic bacteria and microbes that frollicked and played in the porous steel, innocently unaware of their environments' role in his impending doom. Sure that his life was about to end in mere seconds, he tore his eyes away from the almost glowing circle of pot-metal and looked up, only to behold a giant, plastic, revolving chicken leering down at him. "The last thing I'll ever see. It figures," he thought in hysterical dismay.
"Sheee-it. That white boy ain't even worth a bullet, Magic Eddie. Leave 'im 'lone. He be more trouble than anything else. Look there, he already wet himself," pointed out a single, older voice, coming to Ivan's defense.
It was true. Ivan felt a wet, itchy warmness spreading out from his crotch. It turned out that emptying his bladder was the best thing he could have done to diffuse the lynch-mob atmosphere. The point of the gun wavered, then lowered and withdrew. Magic Eddie flicked the safety on, tucked it back into his waistband and smiled broadly. By making himself the object of infantile ridicule, the quaking Stang had become too harmless to be considered a worthwhile kill, turning, instead, into a rather good story to repeated later over a shared bowl of hubba.
"Gwann home, 'Party Monster', yo' mamas' calling." Magic Eddie dismissed Ivan, turning away and dabbed at his vest with a wet-wipe one of his friends handed him. Backing away, Ivan cleared his runny nose with the edge of his wrist and lost no time doing as he'd been instructed, followed by the derisive laughter of the junior junkies all the way out the parking lot.
Stang, walking uncomfortably bowlegged, waited until he was half-way to his office before turning around and shouting at the pack of dopers, "Users are losers!" A couple of them got up and made as if to give chase, sending Ivan scuttling rapidly off to the refuge of the Foundation, shaking his steaming pant legs the whole way.
Ivan stopped in the doorway of the Skaggs' and checked for signs of the nonexistent pursuit. It had been a close thing with the hyper Eddie, who easily could have negated him with no more thought than the crack-brained addict would have given to stepping on a bug. Probably less. Certainly he'd never feel safe eating there again. One more place he'd been effectivly banned from. Assured that he was to be left alone, the panting Stang contemplated his soiled Levi's. New problems now: getting to the restroom in the rear of the mail room without drawing the attention of the eagle-eyed Mrs. Jones; what excuse would serve to cover for his late return; how to wash the tell-tale incontinence out and dry his clothing off.