To commemorate the return of wearing masks in NYC, as well as the concurrent news regarding the advent of the Monkeypox, I thought I’d republish here this little excerpt from my 2009 novel CONSPIRACY!
In this chapter, we find out that the villain’s plot involves releasing something called “Monkey Virus” into NYC. He then plans to then reap up the cash rewards selling disposable face masks.
Please note: this is not my “commentary” on the current virus troubles. I wrote & self-published this book, CONSPIRACY!, a full ELEVEN YEARS (11 years) before the current virus troubles began. So don’t give me any shit.
Chapter Twelve: The Jar In The File Cabinet
I had reached a point in my life – on the floor, handcuffed to a large file-cabinet and apparently bleeding from my ears – where I realized quite clearly that I had made several grave errors in judgment. The errors I recognized were not just those I had committed recently, but had been peppered throughout the whole of my adult life.
At first it looked like sweet Edith Snider was dancing with the large shirtless man with the stringy blond mullet on the wall, Batman-style, dancing to what at first I thought was Lynyrd Skynyrd but upon reflection was really The Rolling Stones circa 1968. However, I noticed through my brain haze that my left arm was bent back in an unnatural position, resting against a small metal bar that had cut off my circulation.
My manacled hands felt like pork chops: alien, pale. I twisted my head around to face the flat chipped surface of a metal file cabinet. There was a label on the cabinet; on the label was, printed neatly in pen, the word “FGHJGJT.” Despite how shitty I felt, within minutes of waking my mind had cleared up enough to take reasonable stock of my surroundings. In fact, I would say that despite the beating to my skull I had not been of such a clear mind for months.
It was obvious to me that Edith was quite familiar to this gentleman, familiar in the sexual sense; and further, that she was quite devoted to him and not devoted to me at all. This tall, tanned man, with a tattoo on his back of a crying Hulk Hogan rising spectre-like over the burning Twin Towers, this man was none other than Hansel VanHalen, leader of the Zaius Project. Frankly, I expected somebody older.
Lying there in a small pool of my own blood, I wondered how long the two would dance, and if I should try to get their attention somehow by perhaps clearing my throat. But no, they continued to dance to a good number of other songs in their dark and dirty apartment, the air thick with nicotine and pot.
And no, I did not clear my throat to get their attention. I shifted the weight of my body as to get some of the feeling back in my hands, and waited patiently for them to notice me; knowing that, no matter what Hansel had to say to me, it was going to be pretty goddamn entertaining.
“WHO SENT YOU?!”
Hansel was squatting down to my level, screaming in my face, his breath reeking of tuna fish and what smelled like paint-stripper. His demeanor had pulled a complete 180-degree turn from the happy-go-lucky and somewhat lascivious-looking fellow who was dancing ass-to-ass with my former potential love-interest, Miss Edith Snider.
Hansel’s skin up-close was not so much tanned as weathered, rubbed raw by a native sunshine that I was sure this depressed and industrial enclave at the terminus of the island of Manhattan could not provide. And that’s when I had a flash of Hansel knee-deep in his Florida swampwater enclave, building the temporary shelter for His People, all 79 of them. Hansel Van Halen, the George Washington of the Zaius Project, architect and presumed first ruler of New Amsterdam.
“Nobody sent me–”
“WHO SENT YOU?!”
“Look, you can ask Edith–”
But sweet Edith Snider merely put up her hands as if this was not her problem, and turned away to light a joint. Hansel’s teeth were like Chiclets nestled into sagging pink-gray diapers. “Motherfucker, I will NOT be played. So you’d best tell me everything now. I know about the van.”
“The black van, been shadowing this block for weeks. First parked across the street, then two blocks down, then perpendicular, then in 34th Street next to the Popeye’s.”
“I don’t even have a car–”
Hansel punched the file cabinet next to my head, leaving a fist-sized dent.
“I WILL NOT RETREAT,” he screamed. “I CANNOT BE BROKEN! You can chase me, harass me, send beams into my head, fuck my girl, park right next to Popeye’s – but I will NOT be intimidated.”
And as Hansel said these things, screamed these things, he pointed to his cerebellum, pointed at the end of each item on his list of persecutions. A thought suddenly occurred to me – had he discovered the gun? I strained to look over his thick muscle-rounded shoulder for my silver vinyl messenger bag. Hansel chuckled darkly.
“It’s too late, anyhow.”
“Perhaps you should tell me.”
“What, you mean Zaius?”
And he punched me in the mouth.
And this, as I remembered from over two decades of reading comic books, was the part of the show where the supervillain stepped back and explained his entire plan. Implicit in this act was the fact that the villain in question was going to shoot the hero in the head, put him in a large blue container, and float him out over the Hudson.
Hansel snapped his fingers, and Edith approached the file cabinet upon which I was attached with a set of keys. She unlocked the top cabinet and pulled out a jar swaddled in a filmy tissue-like paper and sawdust. It was the type of jar you’d find eggs in at a bar, only this one was half filled with nothing but what looked like water.
Edith ceremoniously handed the jar to Hansel, who wrapped his large bicep around it like a school-kid would with his books.
“I’m sure you must know what this is, fucker! I’m sure you’ve heard the tapes.”
I was now bleeding from both my ears and my mouth, and, despite my normally passive nature, was starting to get really annoyed. And as much as I disliked this Hansel fellow, my true and rising enmity was reserved exclusively for Edith.
She attended Hansel with her eyes the way a First Lady would regard her husband during his speech. Complete and total devotion. I wondered if I would be the first man to die from trusting her, from believing that a random hook-up online or at a convention could lead to some sort of epic true love story. If I had to compare the two, I would say that I wanted her dead just a little bit more.
“This jar contains grade-A good ol’ American monkey virus.”
“Yes. Monkey virus.”
“W-where–where would you get monkey virus?”
*** *** ***
“It’s only a matter of time until They send out their own virus to thin out the herd anyway,” Hansel continued. “It’s not a matter of good or bad, but elementary science and mathematics.”
My worst subjects.
“If you forgive me saying so, I have a hard time believing that our own government would–”
Hansel’s eyes bulged in his head.
“THEY’RE NOT OUR GOVERNMENT! They’re their own entity, their own virtual island of contacts with shared bloodlines and interests! New World Order, one-world system? Bullshit, that’s been done already. And we’re not invited.”
I spoke without even thinking; perhaps I was delirious from the blood loss.
“So the crackheads are not invited?”
At this point, I think I was deaf in one ear as the result of being repeatedly kicked in the head. It was a dumb thing to say to him, I’ll admit. I’ll admit that even if really I did not like this guy, thought he was an idiot.
It was a dumb thing to say because if a meteor was about to hit Earth, I knew my name would not be on Battlestar Galactica spaceship guest-list. I was expendable: a 31-year-old comic book fan and former prescription drug casualty who drew hands like birds and couldn’t even keep a planned obsolescence job.
My hate for Edith Snider was steady and rising. As I lost my dignity and my dreams, primal desires for revenge and restitution asserted themselves. It was so intense, this need to get back at Edith and the way she totally boned me, that it took a while to sink in the concept that Hansel Van Halen was essentially talking to me about planned genocide.
I don’t know why it was so hard to grasp the full nailbiting horror of that fact. Sure, part of me might have been scared of dying by Hansel’s own hands, my torso melting down in his bathtub as he and Edith jitterbugged to “Sticky Fingers.”
It’s just that when I pictured that ultimate buttonpresser, the hangman of humanity, the Doctor Doom-like mastermind that brought the world to his knees – I did not picture a mulleted man with bad breath and a Hulk Hogan tattoo. I pictured Frank Langella or somebody like that.
What did Batman once say on that 1960s TV show? When he was strapped to a giant sno-cone and left to die? “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing.
“This is mass murder,” I announced bravely to Hansel. “You’ll never get away with it!”
Another snap of Hansel’s fingers, and Edith produced a box of disposable face-masks, like the ones Michael Jackson wore to FAO Schwartz. Edith dug her long, beautiful, somewhat nicotine-stained fingers into the box and pulled them out, letting the masks dangle luxuriously from her digits. She was the Dian Parkinson of the apocalypse.
“You…you know that’s not really going to protect you two from the virus, right?”
“Fuck that shit,” Hansel replied, lifting an army-grade gas mask out of a pile of plastic shopping bags. “These are what we’re gonna wear when we set it off. We’re just gonna sell the other shit when people start freaking out.”
“Five dollars a mask,” Edith chimed in.
“Fuck that shit, girl – twenty-five!”
“I love you so much, baby…”
“I love you too.”
And they went off to a side-room to fuck. Every once in a while I could hear what sounded like a punch, Edith yelping, and then Edith laughing. I stared at the empty gas mask that Hansel had left on the floor.