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Death and Dying | The Nation

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Death and Dying

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Mutt rammed an elbow into the cop's stomach, but she'd brought up her leg and this blocked the blow. She countered with a heel strike of her hand, catching him at the base of his jaw back toward his ear. He grunted and tried to twist his wide body around in the rear of the Chrysler 300. But Desdemona Valdez now had her legs scissored around his torso and he reared back, shoving him and her against the side window, rattling the door. She reached and got his neck between her forearms, her hand gripping the wrist of her other arm, squeezing.

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

"I'm going to pop your eyes out, bitch," she hissed between gritted teeth.

"Fuck you, rug muncher," he wheezed.

The car rocked on its shock absorbers as the two combatants wrestled, gouged, punched and generally did mayhem to each other in the enclosed space. The Chrysler was parked in the driveway of the ranch-style house belonging to the North Las Vegas bruja. Inside, ailing billionaire Mace Gillmore reclined on a couch, his shirt off, a long red-and-black rooster feather lying in the middle of his chest. His eyes were closed and his breathing regular, suggesting contentment, a coming to terms with his approaching fate.

The witchy woman sat near him in a hard-backed chair. Her legs were crossed and she had the detached observant air of the clinician as she watched Gilmore. Near the couch was a three-legged wooden stool. Upon this was a hand-thrown clay pot giving off smoke from the sage burning within. On the floor next to the couch was a glass that had recently contained the diluted solution of oxycodone that Gilmore drank, to ease his pain and to open his mind. There was an image of the Transformer Optimus Prime on the glass.

"What do you see?" The bruja asked.

"My brother. The older one who died when we were kids. Well, I was 10 and he was 17 when..." He halted as if he were going to tear up but then continued, clear-voiced. "You know he taught me how to swim. How to hit a fast ball," he snickered, "how to sneak a look up a girl's skirt."

"How did he die?"

"I don't see what that has to do with anything--anything now, at least."

"How did he die?" she insisted.

His eyes opened and he fixed on the ceiling of the converted bedroom, tracing a crack from the molding to a mechanical fan with lazily rotating blades. Gilmore dabbed a thumb at the corner of his eye, taking it away wet. He then went on, slipping back into his relaxed state.

"He had this hot rod, this '41 Willys him and his buddies had souped up. You know this was the '50s, all the kids were doing it."

She didn't say anything. The gate was open, he'd go through it.

"Like I said, Bryce was really something. He'd lettered in track and basketball, the girls would flirt with him, but he'd even read Hardy Boys stories with me. Of course, I could never tell his teammates that or he'd cream me." He smiled at that.

"But he died," she remixed him, kicking dust on his fond memories.

"Rolled that Willys," Gilmore said curtly. "Just showing off for some girl, of course. Man's downfall."

"Women?" The bruja asked.

He considered this and answered, "Pride. Trips you up every time."

There was a dull thud from outside, and from where Cynthia Kang was--in the bathroom, listening to Gilmore--she hoped her lover was alright.

Back on the driveway, Desdemona Valdez was on her hands and knees on the concrete, blood and saliva on her mouth, her face slick with sweat. Her blouse was ripped and she knew her jaw was going to be tender and discolored in the morning. The back door of the 300 was open and Mutt lay partially out of the opening on his back, his mouth agape, his temple purple and bulging. She'd finally put him away by clubbing him with the butt of her service nine.

Valdez used the side of the car to steady herself and got to her feet. When Gilmore had arrived in the Chrysler, Mutt was driving. She wiped her mouth on what remained of her shirt sleeve. Kimbrough had called him that, being a collector of classic strips. Valdez was way too young to remember the comic strip Mutt and Jeff from the days of yellow journalism and newsies hawking papers on street corners. Kimbrough had come out of his coma and told Kang about the meet with the one called Riggs who eventually turned on him and had left him battered and tied up in the woods.

The funny thing was, Valdez reflected, stuffing Mutt back in the car, turns out even though you'd think the short one would fit the dog designation, it was the tall one in the strip who was Mutt, Jeff being the half-pint. Valdez had Googled the names to read up on the history of the strip. But who was she to disabuse Kimbrough of this fact? It made more sense that the smaller one was Mutt anyway. More important, she wondered, starting the Chrysler and backing it out of the driveway, where was the one called Jeff?

Inside the bedroom, the woman, being more therapist than black magic conjurer, asked Gilmore, "And so you took the lesson from your brother's death which instills in you the drive to succeed. But now you've finished an accounting of your life. I must know if you're being honest if you want me to help you."

"No reason not to be," he said. " 'Course that won't buy my way into heaven, huh?"

"Are you concerned about that?"

He chortled. "Shouldn't I be?"

"Why don't we stick with earthly concerns?" Kang said, stepping from the bathroom. The bruja looked from her to Gilmore, who had a pleasant expression on his face, as if he'd been expecting her. "What the fuck is going on? What I do to you that you've sent your minions against me and my staff? Or was it just any lefty would do?"

Still lying on his back on the couch, he clasped his hands on his chest. "You could wait and read it in my book."

Kang folded her arms. "Or I could rain as much shit on you and the Fallenbee Directive as I can in your last few months of life."

He chuckled again. "I know you've been snooping."

"Then you know I'm not bullshitting."

He gestured toward the stool. Then have a seat, Comrade Kang, and I'll tell you a story."

To Be Continued...

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