Being the adventures of absurdist-Dadaist metaphysical/occultist & private detective/investigator-for-hire Beckett Malone.
Malone is a character in a subplot in our antagonist’s failed novel attempt, a pseudoautobiography and fictionalized expose of the stranger than life story behind the “bath salts zombies” coverage and (now that he’s escaped that tiny fiefdom near Shiloh, TN he was raised in) the twisted state of affairs that has afflicted his beloved hometown like a curse of good ol boy vampires since the 1800s.
Malone externalizes our antihero’s impotence at doing anything about a vicious, fetid and gnarled web of corruption he finds himself even now drawn into: drug running, switched identities, false imprisonment and kidnapping, character assassination and actual assassination attempts, which all serve as merely the macabre icing on a hellish cake, left for the antiquarian, eccentric occultist Malone to stew over.
Saga – Worlds Apart
Supertramp – Breakfast in America
Zappa – 200 Motels / ’72 Fillmore / Just Another Band from LA / One Size Fits All
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam / Countdown to Ecstasy / Katy Lied
Frater Nada zipped up his balaclava and jumped on his moped. “Inspector Malone…” he said as he kicked the kickstand, “he dead.” With a dramatic flourish, he fanned the last of his business cards, a few of which eddied about behind the belching exhaust fume like so much paper detritus. As of this moment, all contact info, including name, were obsolete.
Indeed, Inspector Malone was, for all intents and purposes, dead. That said, since Malone had always been just another work alias or alter ego, you could say that it was more of a retired identity. That wouldn’t do for Nada though, especially not at such a psychically fraught and pregnant instance as the current moment.
Besides, Nada had a flair for the dramatic and loved to pepper his auditory stream-of-consciousness with literary references. And so as he sped away from the no longer safe safe-house he couldn’t resist paraphrasing Conrad.
Ironically, Nada né Malone had never actually read anything by Conrad. Despite this, he felt fairly confident in offering up his bad paraphrase. He was still coasting on the A+ he’d “earned” on his senior year Advanced Placement English essay on Heart of Darkness. The essay in question delved into the idea of dualism and how Kurtz and Marlowe were inverted versions of each other.
“Excellent work! I’d never looked at it this way,” Ms. Majors had enthusiastically penned in bright red ink at the top of the first page. Didn’t think so, he had thought, likely you only read the book whereas I took initiative and got stoned and watched Apocalypse Now instead.
For a half a second as the moped careened around the corner, disappearing into a cloud of smoke, Malone wondered if he should have used that specific line considering it technically wasn’t even in the movie. I mean, sure, Marlon Brando reads “The Hollow Men” which begins with the line “Mistah Kurtz, he dead” but that line itself remains unread. Another extraneous problem to focus on in hopes to keep his adrenaline and cortisol levels at a manageable level. He couldn’t resist freaking out, there was too much to legitimately freak out about.
And so, it was another rushed exodus job. His presence, his work, tended to upset a certain sort. As a result, he was more often than not living out of boxes until those inevitable DEFCON 5 events like today which didn’t even permit so much as a single box and only one medium sized backpack to load up as we rolled out. Though there may be something to be said of “unpacking your baggage” psychologically speaking, there was always one medium sized, rolling piece of luggage full of a clean change of clothes and a hygiene kit and few other items and a waterproof backpack flung open in a corner awaiting the important electronics, notebooks and any other items worth weighing down and slowing down your attempt at hasty retreat.
Roll out, again and again. In his head “Hello, Hooray!” was literally blaring in his brainpan, the opening track to Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies. Moments like these there was always a soundtrack, it seemed. He remembered the night he had to sneak out of a two-story window to escape the folks on the other side trying to beat their way in. The opening track of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America was on in his head then. Another time it was Zappa’s Just Another Band in LA. In fact, it was often Zappa or Steely Dan that formed the score of such unexpected adventures.
Salem Kippers AKA Salem K AKA K AKA Inspector Beckett Malone AKA Frater Nada was cogitating on how relatively unwise making one more drop at Vartanian’s. K had employed the services of an Armenian who operated several side businesses including a commercial mail receiving/remailing service.
In part he was hired because K felt his integrity was unimpeachable. He was after all a devout, practicing LDS active in both ward and stake. Besides, Howard Hughes only trusted Mormons as couriers beyond a certain level of paranoia. Nada was a strict practicing egalitarian, but some mixture of the paranoid and superstitious in him felt there was some heavy bit of divine architecture being revealed in the novelty of having his signals scrambled by a religious fanatic with a surname (Vartanian) that literally means shield.
Clutching the handlebar of his moped tightly with his right hand, he used his left hand to readjust the balaclava that he wore as much to obscure his appearance and filter exhaust smoke as to protect from the late Winter, Washington chill. If he’d had at least one more arm he would likely scratch his head while trying to ken the meaning of Brando’s Apocalypse Now Kurtz reading a poem mentioning Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’s Kurtz without mentioning (Kurtz) his own name. Maybe it would have just been one layer of self-referential too many in Coppola’s mind. Who knows?
Nada certainly knew about self-referential loops. He had plenty of experience in that area.
Inspector Malone was, until just recently, known by his fliers and business cards as an absurdist-Dadaist metaphysical/occultist private detective cum investigator-for-hire.
Malone, himself, was a character in a subplot in his own failed novel attempt, a pseudoautobiography and fictionalized expose of the stranger than life story behind the “bath salts zombies” coverage he had collected information on under the pseudonym “Salem K.”
Malone was more than a pseudonym though, he was a genuine alternate personality. In simply existing, Kippers/K/Malone/Nada externalized his own antihero’s impotence at doing anything about vicious and twisted webs of corruption he continually found himself drawn into with drug running, switched identities, false imprisonment and kidnapping, character assassination and actual assassination attempts and much more as merely the macabre icing on a hellish cake left for the antiquarian, eccentric occultist, Malone, to stew over.
For a moment there, the layers of ego gave him a bigger headache than figuring out the use of The Hollow Men in the Coppola flick had. Who was he? Was he at all? If you reinvent yourself as a fiction of sort, can you erase your reality? At about this point he got an overlarge breath of exhaust intake and once again, with his left hand, readjusted the jolly roger emblazoned cotton cotton balaclava.
“Too abstract, too abstract!” he warned himself as he veered dangerously toward the sidewalk. That “rabbit running across your grave in the future” feeling again caused him to shiver far more than the frost in the stale, smoggy, Seattle air. It was a recurring feeling, for sure.
Was it the self-same cursed terror that Lovecraft, the same nightmare vision that he had inherited from Le Fanu? Lovecraft and Sheridan Le Fanu, both shaken by strange dreams that just wouldn’t end. Even after sleep had faded away. Then there was that sound again…
The soundtrack to The Waiting Room ov Interzone, generally consists of polished funk, something the likes of which would not be out of place as a number in some Chuck Mangione set. Nor as some sound of self-placified & self-pacifying rhythm of the most self righteous of granola eaters.
The soundtrack to the interdimensional interstice is dentist’s office music. Apparently anyways, which is the secret of its soporific thrall. Barely hidden, beneath the stupor: indolent, ambient jazz of the “almost Muzak” variety, but lurking within… codes and ciphers.
Everything was codes and ciphers on some level though. What’s DNA other than machine code for meat? So, meat code then? What are religions and cultures if not the codices that underpinned the ever so fragile social tapestry? Nada (formerly Beckett Malone, formerly Salem K, initially Salem D. Kippers) seemed to be constantly weaving a weird tapestry of convoluted inside jokes in the attempt to weave a personal mythology of some sort along the lines of H.P. Lovecraft.
The Malone moniker, for instance, was a slight attempt (so slight you’d miss it if you blink) at homage to K’s second favorite Absurdist after that wacky Ionesco cat. The novel trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable was one of those seminal works, like Philip K. Dick’s “Faith Of Our Fathers” or Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or “The Hunger Artist” or The Trial by Kafka or Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray that had irrevocably shaped (perhaps warped) a much younger version of the weird he was today.
Might as well make one final stop at Vartanian’s, he thought, putting the throbbing dread away from his mind. There was a notebook and a couple other small items of sentimental value that he was still trying to keep intact and in tow and, who knows, could even be some mail.
The last time he was forced to flee Dodge with such a fury it was the almost-in-laws, a couple of fairly connected outlaws who tended to be found in the midst of a particular outlaw biker gang. The guy was slipperier than an eel and had friends in high and low places. Talk about your right hand not knowing the left hand’s business.
So long as he refrained from materializing on certain turf or stepping over certain boundaries and most of all never sharing any information about tidbits of the twisted soap opera with anyone, and most of all any sort of legal authorities. Trying to narc on Craddock and his old lady. That’s a laugh. Donald Craddock, affectionately nicknamed “Don,” occasionally “The Don,” wasn’t the kind of hood you just narced on. The type that dealt snitches with stitches or worse, the type that you couldn’t narc on because he was already cozy with city hall. And not just as the department’s prize pet rat. No, guy had clout with all layers of the power structure. This was the kind of guy who regularly partied with lobbyists and kingmakers. As soon as he came around the corner he saw Anag Vartanian standing in front of his office, arms folded, dark shades hiding nearly two-thirds of his face. This didn’t look any better than it felt earlier.
“They’re on to you. I’m surprised you detoured here first,” Anag Vartanian spoke with a rich, bassy and heavily accented (Glendale by way of Yerevan) voice. Concerned but composed. “That is to say, though, if They have their eyes on you already, no precautions will shake them. Nothing you can conjure, certainly. The Incredulous Richard was by. He said, it would be wise for you to relocate before something about community action and consequences.”
His concern manifested in a tightness in the corner of his left lips. The strictly contracted sort of smirk twitched now, like a sudden mild fit that was purely confined to this one section of Vartanian’s face.
“He says that if he catches you freelancing again, he’ll make sure you can’t wear your face anywhere without being mocked and reviled…” Vartanian sighed and stared at the floor for a few moments as if deeply taking in what Incredulous Dick had relayed, “One way or the other.” After another brief pause adding, “which, the last bit especially, I found very ominous.”
Of course this was a direct threat from the premiere Skeptic himself. Sleight of hand artist, showman, the most well known of hoax dispellers and debunkers. Dick was threatening to paint him as a deranged, dangerous, possibly even delusional, schizoid con man like L. Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley or Jack Parsons or whoever. K, shivered again.
The Incredulous Richard was famous for offering a million dollars to any psychics or mystics who could scientifically prove their feats were real under his scrutiny. Nada was fairly certain he and his Skeptical Society were descended from Pythagoreans, Sufis and some other mystic/illuminate sects and their whole act of debunking mediums was just job security. Mysticism, after all, was just science not written in the books. Science as an art. The Incredulous Richard knew one of the key ingredients was faith, belief, confidence. His side show of a hoax debunking circus was certain to do just that to many a budding precog or emerging, armchair psychokinetic. They likely got “sponsored” some time during the Cold War. Likely around the same time as the CIA started playing with astral projection and sending people to hang out with Gene Roddenberry and some rich old WASP families trying to contact interdimensional entities in Egypt.
That feeling manifested itself again in the pit of his stomach. This time it wasn’t a “first alert” this was one of those visceral “final warning” feelings which usually meant it was too late to get out of whatever pickle jar was about to close its lid about him. Vartanian’s face had become a mask of tics. His mouth was twisted at the corner nearly around itself.
“Come into my office, I have some mail for you and something to say in private.”
Nada felt his heart thumping in his larynx, hot blood was making a noise like a gong emanating from his temples which throbbed with worry but all he could bring himself to say was, “Ok,” as he shuffled along behind Vartanian into the storefront.
The door creaked open and Nada noticed a manila folder on the fax machine. Vartanian situated himself behind the desk. “Have a seat, Sammy.” Nada never understood why he always called him Sammy, but as a man of many names, he was fine with one more added to the list. He handed the manila folder across the desk. Nada dropped it in his lap. He then reached under the desk as he began to talk. For a moment, Nada feared he may be reaching for a gun.
“I’m sorry, Sammy. You know, they got to me. They had all the records of our business arrangement, all our conversations recorded and were going to paint you as some sort of Satanic witch and con man. I have too much of a, well, stake in my ward and stake to be the subject of any controversy, much less anything so untoward. They said I had to deliver you.”
Vartanian’s hands held a gas mask which he fitted around his face. The muffled sound of his thick Armenian accent saying, “I’m sorry, Sammy. I guess this is goodbye,” is the last thing Nada remembered as everything went bright.
Nada came to. Sort of. His thoughts were disordered and everything seemed far away. He was mildly aware he had not so much “come to” at all, rather he was finally able to cling to his ego to make sense of the oddness all around. Time still had no meaning and spatial logic seemed skewed. It was obviously the drug from the gas. It felt dissociative. He was in a concrete shelter of some sort now. Perhaps a garage or carport. As he examined the surroundings a sudden squelch from a loudspeaker made him jump.
“Inspector Malone, there you are. Or would you prefer Salem Kippers? We’re aware you’re fond of obscuring your identity. Regardless of the name, you’ve been brought here as a warning. If you don’t want to end up like spoonbender Uri Geller, or worse, his buddy Ira ‘the Unicorn’ Einhorn, you’re going to turn your back on your current vocation. If you do not, we will ensure you are famous. You will be the subject of scornful headlines around the world if you do not comply. Please take your mail and head on your way.”
And that was that. He saw the manila folder was right beside him. He found his way outside of the empty garage, found his scooter right outside and sped out of the area. He didn’t slow down until he found an international traveler’s hostel that showed some promise.
Settled down in his bunk he tried to rest his mind but that feeling came back.
extended, extrasensory, ecstatic
ex-stasis, outside of equilibrium. He felt it engulf him, the oldest beaded trick in the shaman’s ol’ bag of tricks. In the human sense of things a very old bag, indeed… It had something to do with the powerful and alien emotion too strong to call joy and too jarring and uncomfortable to call pleasure. A sense of invigoration, an intense rush that married the epiphanous sense of the mystic with the endogenous endorphin buzz of the runner’s high or pepper high.
Like the few pepper overdoses he’d experienced (for science) this influx of endorphins and arrestin-p had kicked his internal, biosynthetic pharmacy into overdrive leaving him numb and shaky. Fight or flight chemicals swimming through endocrinal glands and cerebrospinal fluid spilling about through gray matter. It was time to see what this envelope held.
He reached inside the manila envelope. It was a yellow notebook made out of Manila hemp, pulped from the abaca, a banana tree native to the Philippines. Inside the envelope as a message scrawled on a piece of cardstock.
“Malone, hope you’re free to travel.” Free for the moment, thought Nada of his recent kidnapping. “I’ve got a job for you. Can you join me in Machu Picchu? The 10 digit number following is a Western Union MTCN. Underneath that is a phone number. The MTCN is $2000 you may use to travel to the address on the back of this card, a small betting house called the Pancake Igloo in Peoria. The small key taped inside the folder,” Nada shook the folder violently, then reached inside and with the sound of packing tape scraping away a layer of the folder grasped a small key, “opens a safety deposit box. PI-49777. Inside the box is an additional $10,000 to retain your services for the week in Machu Picchu. If all goes well, I will need you next week at Easter Island. If you decline, I understand, but please take the money as a gift from an admirer and would-be patron. I may have a lead on the RHA. Yrs, Hope”
Hope eh? We’ll see, I guess.
Nada sighed, still mentally and physically exhausted by the recent ordeal with the Incredulous Richard and truth be told, he was getting that same sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach he’d ignored on the way to Vartanian’s as well. Besides, it was likely “Hope” was really working with/for Incredulous Richard and his merry band of Skeptics. As for the Reality Hackers Anonymous, even if RHA wasn’t just a honeypot and/or deradicalization/deprogramming op designed to catch any of the gifted perception shifters and illusion smashers the likes of which K inexplicably kept running into it was quite certainly being closely watched by the powers that be, some of whom were already hot on his trail.
But it was a free trip to Machu Picchu…
— salem k
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