With the unwanted help of a beautiful hitchhiker, the detective is about to find out just what ‘Art is long, life is short’, really means
The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round...in a Dynamic and Sub-Rotary Context Engaging, but not Excluding, Conventional Systems of Mortality and Modal Models Addressing Personal Extinction and/or Extreme Physiognomic Restructuring at the Intersection of Misconfigured Puerile Indoctrinal Hierarchies and Things that Go "bang"
While he was gone, a beautiful psychotic artist had commandeered his vehicle with a bazooka. It wasn’t often this happened: in fact, Rogatien couldn’t remember the last time he’d had any woman in his car. But he had to ask. He poked his head in. “If you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing?”
She sighed in exasperation. “It’s fairly obvious I’m about to renegotiate the matrix of the prescribed infantile conformity systems within the bounding box of imposed western dictatorial norms. By reassessing and redefining the multiplexed interstitial layers of road, media, role-play and group hierarchies and commingling their randomized co-constituents in a series of arbitrarily selected models we will initiate new and superior value structures of inimitable complexity and potential.”
“You mean you’re going to blow up that school bus?”
“If you want to be pedestrian about it, yeah.”
“You’re an artist?
“Of course,” she said proudly.
“Uh-huh.” Rogatien stroked his moustache, taking it in. “Why the bazooka? It seems such a...uh...violent way to make a point. Maybe you can just take off the alternator caps so the bus never takes any poor kid to the sewage plant ever again. Or fill it up with vegetable peels and make it into a composter to grow beautiful gardens. There are so many ways to neutralize our childhood nightmares...so they tell me...” he trailed off.
“Yeah, yeah, but this looks better on video. Check it out.” She pulled out a little remote and aimed it at the bus. The multiple monitors that had replaced the bus windows now showed the detective’s car, complete with the big bazooka. “Neat, huh? Like we’re in Beirut or something. There’s a web cam in the windshield. Gonna get every detail of this sucker when she blows.”
“Oh.” He thought for a moment. “And the oil drums and kegs of dynamite under the chassis?”
“Hey! You have to lay the irony on with a trowel in this business. Oh, why is she destroying the symbol of childhood innocence? But is childhood innocent? Irony! She speaks of positive renewal from oppressive patriarchal class systems, but their liberation comes from the phallic point of a missile shell. Irony again! She wants to release us all from the prescribed path of conformity and suppressed spirit, but all that is left is a smoking ruin! Oh, the irony irony irony! What does it all mean?”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know. I can’t waste my time on that shit. It hurts my head.”
“The idea, it just comes and you go with it. Blow up a bus, it comes to me, and I do it. Shoot first, ask questions later.”
“As an artist, it’s not healthy to fetter your imagination.”
“As a bystander it could be better you did...but maybe I’m behind the times.”
“No problem. Each act of creation is a step, single and trivial in itself, but it is all part of a progression, an evolution molecule by molecule of your soul. Today, it’s a bus. Tomorrow, who knows. Last week I sunk a fishing trawler.”
“But I’m not sure where I’m going with this series. Somewhere in my mind, far below in the dark and green and fertile seas, there may lay some resolution forming itself. Churning and tossing and snapping beneath the waves of the imagination, blown over by the restless wind of creation, brooding under the leaden skies of contemplation. That’s a nice image, isn’t it? I love the sea. Perhaps that’s why my sub is so important to me.”
“Yes. My grandma’s. A nice big black one. But she lost it. Just to spite me, I’m sure. She’s always pulling that kinda shit on me. Just when the reactors were getting back on line, too.”
“Oh. Uh, that’s too bad,” Sub, Rogatien thought. Where had that come up before? But the Strange One was yapping, distracting his thought.
“Yep. But I’m gonna find it. I got plans for that boomer. Sure do. You can bet your tortillas on that. Once some unpleasantness is over and done with. You know--family. Ya gotta love ‘em.”
“Oh, well, yes....”
“We should get to work. Hey, I really like your car. I didn’t think these old cans were still allowed on the road. Adds something to the piece. Covert intercession of maverick individualism in opposition to, yet subsumed by seventies consumerism. It’s so ironic. Get in the back seat and load up a shell for me. Cover your ears when I shoot.”
The gun fired. It missed. The shell flew over the roof of the bus, the crowd, the tourists and their expensive vegetables and finally over the roof of The Island Mart. From there it gracefully arced downward until it fell into the gulf where it exploded in a cinematically impressive ‘whoomp!’ of water and steam and spray. This added a novel diversion to an otherwise routine dragon boat race.
“Shit!” said Julia. “Let’s reload.”
“I’m not sure...”
At this moment the image on the video screens changed again. A little white mouse with an enormous walrus moustache leapt frantically up and down, and looked like it was trying to say something. “Where did you get that video?” the detective asked.
“What? Where? What! Where did that come from! Little jerk! I thought I fixed him last time.” She squinted at the sights. On the screens, multiple mice froze in terror, staring directly at them.
Like Warhol, thought Rogatien, in the split second before Julia fired again.
This time the shell went straight through the windshield and took out a monitor, which crackled and burned. But there was no explosion, no belching inferno, and no mouse smithereens.
“Fuck!” said Julia.
“Nuts!” said the little white mouse, which streaked out of the broken windshield. It stopped in the middle of the road in front of them. It wagged a finger at them. “Nuts! Yure nuts!” it squeaked in a near incomprehensible brogue. “Kinna a wee rodent hae nay a minute’s rest anywhere than a crazy lassie like you tries to blow my wee atoms to kingdom come!” It darted down the road.
“What was--” Rogatien began, but the mouse had stopped and turned around.
“And I huvnae foor-got about the Starbooks, neither!” it said. It turned to Rogatien. “Yew watch her!” it said, and scampered off.
Julia thrust her body out Rogatien’s windshield. “You rat!” she cried, shaking her fist. “You wrecked my piece! Stick this up your maze, you miserable albino freak--” she pulled one of the grenades off her breast.
“No! No!” cried Rogatien, grabbing her arm. He pulled her back in the car, as the cheer went up for Julia Siddons’ most astonishing work yet.
Oh, the neo-bestial interface of intransigent and the recalcitrant motilities in a ribo/de-ribo cross-contextual engine arcing the multi-stream convolution of facile cultural norms, it’s, it’s--
And several critics in the crowd fell dead on the spot.
But Rogatien and Julia paid no mind to that.
“‘Effing mouse,” grumbled the artist. “I gotta finish this.”
“Fine. About my windshield--” said the detective.
“What else can we do to destroy this thing? Wait! We can ram it! Hey! Where’s the car keys? Great! Still in the ignition!” She turned and looked back at him. “That’s a bad habit, you know.”
The detective lunged over the back seat to snatch the keys from the ignition just as Julia slid beneath the wheel. Their two arms battled for control like two fish for the same bait. The detective won. “I like my car as it is.”
Julia looked at him with dead-eyed blackness. “You have no soul.”
“What else do you have?” she carried on, with new perkiness. “Rocks? Oil cans? Tire irons?” She leaned over the seat and blindly snatched up the diving mask he’d recovered. “Jesus!” she swore, dropping it back. “What the hell is this?”
“Oh, I just found it in a garden.”
“Gee, the visor is so thick. It looks like part of an observatory.”
“I think it’s optically corrected.”
“For a Cyclops, maybe. Hey! What are you going to do with it? I’ve got this death-ray in the works--”
“Oh, I thought that maybe I could find the owner, put up some notices in the lost and found...find a dive shop with a bulletin board. I thought the Island would be good for that. Tell me, you look familiar with this place. Do you know where I could try?”
“You’re doing a good deed?”
“Umm, I never thought of it quite like that--”
“You are an antique, aren’t you? You should end it all now, you and your hulkmobile both. Here’s the perfect opportunity. Go out like a Viking ship burial.”
The detective paused in thought. “You might have a point. There’s nothing else in my life that would amount to half as much accomplishment as self-destruction in somebody else’s fantasy. But I can’t. I’m old fashioned. I need something more...baroque. And I still have to get that mask to its owner.”
“Suit yourself,” said Julia, shaking her hair in nonchalance. She held the grenade up to the light like an apple she wanted to inspect. “This will do. It worked well enough with the monorail job.” She looked at Rogatien. “I got to go, too. Nice to meet you.”
“Oh!” said the detective. “And those places?
“To try? For the mask?”
“Oh, back to that.” She pointed. “Over there, behind the college. There’s something next to Ahab’s Footlocker, a couple of doors down from the Abalone Soup and Sandwich and Davy Jones Bar and Krill. Two or three places in a row. You can poke around there.”
Rogatien shuddered. Those places were in the dankest, darkest, and most primitive part of The Island--Bilgewater Downs-- never fully emerged from the sea to dry land. Full of swaggering, one-eyed, foul mouthed marine life, sloshing about knee deep in a slurry of mud, oil, javex bottles and potato peelings--not fully evolved by any means. “Have you dived yourself?” he asked.
“Perhaps,” Julia replied absently. “Everyday I am immersed in life to the full. Water or air or fire or earth, I don’t distinguish. Am I above the surface, or below? Can anyone tell? Live in the present. Live in the now.”
“What if you looked at your fingertips now and again? If they’re white and puckered, that could be a clue.”
Julia pulled the pin on the grenade. “I think I have to go.”