Mike Baron, Nexus Novel

ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE WORDS FROM NEXUS NOVEL IN PROGRESS  

CHAPTER FORTY “Beast”

Horatio dined at Impresario every night. He was mistaken for Hugh Sayso three times, once by a woman who fainted. He dined alone in an alcove beneath a glittering dome that reflected the sky, surrounded by caricatures of famous customers. There were two caricatures of Clonezone the Hilariator, one by Pete Emslie and the other by Steve Rude. He worked his way through the menu from Ahi tuna to zebra cutlets, with stops along the way for kale souffle and quinoa a la mode. He was a generous tipper, and competition for his table was fierce among the waiters.

The waiters always said the same thing.“Excellent.” “Perfect.” Like ordering was a difficult acrobatic routine he’d managed to stick. The waiters kept changing. He was a good tipper.

On his fourth visit, the manager, Liz Horton, a long drink of water with Morticia Addams looks, told him that from then on he would eat for free in recognition of his selfless act.

“No more bills for you, Mr. Bartol. Maya opened up an account in your name.”

“That’s very kind.”

“You’re good for business.”

People stopped by his table, introduced themselves, and posed for pictures. Each time Horatio chortled, complied, and complained. “I’m no celebrity.”

He posed with a Cub Scout Troop from Milwaukee. He posed with the Girl Greek Grenadiers from Venus. He posed with a man running for the City Council and instantly regretted it.

People sent him bottles of wine, which he donated to the soup kitchen on Forty Second Street. He visited the soup kitchen every night after dinner and helped serve. All the food came from surrounding restaurants, most of them five star. The indigent dined on patois de faux gras, kippered herring, buffalo steaks, barimundi, and fostedor leaves. The staff split the wine.

One night Horatio found himself working next to a jumbo black man named Dr. Dirt, who was a stockbroker for Diggs Brown during the day.

Dr. Dirt laid a grilled pheasant breast on the plate of an old woman whose filthy gray hair hung in her face like Cousin It.

“You would think,” Dr. Dirt said, “that after nine thousand years of civilization we would have no more homeless. You would think so, but you would be wrong.”

Horatio re-upped a supplicant’s mussels. “There’s no cure for the human condition.”

“Splain.”

“Human nature is immutable. There will always be the weak. There will always be the strong. No amount of social engineering is going to create a class of people who are all equal in all things. You’re always going to have more losers than winners. There are no easy answers. Life is messy and complex. That’s why so many people go into mathematics and psychiatry.”

Dr. Dirt grunted. “I’ll have to think on that.”

They worked in a companionable silence. The soup kitchen was on the ground floor with a misted glass wall looking out on the theater district. Sometimes, drunk swells leaving the theater would press their faces and hands up against the window. Sometimes drunk theater goers would stand in line along with the indigent. Horatio always asked for a donation.

A dozen people lined up at the counter clutching their biodegradable hemp plates. The big room was humid, filled with tantalizing and appalling smells. The food. The people. Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” played through the speakers. It was October 15.

“So you’re saying,” Dr. Dirt said, “that paradise is unobtainable?”

“Well no. Attitude is everything. You can have a miserable life but if you have a good attitude, life can be beautiful. Not everybody is capable of a good attitude. I’d go so far as to say most people aren’t capable. Life is tragic. Most people are going to be unhappy.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto,” Horatio said.

“Huh?”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto.”

“What does it mean?”

“Prosperity is just around the corner.”

They worked in a companionable silence.

“So what you’re saying is, misery is the lot of man.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Yet, some people are capable of happiness.”

Horatio looked into the limpid brown eyes of a hungry girl. “One lump or two?”

“Two, please.”

He gave her two lumps. “A great many people are capable of happiness, but a lot of them are evil. You know what makes them happy? Power over other people. Most people are motivated by envy and resentment.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“What it is.”

The following night he was at his table in Impresario sipping a Stoly martini, when a new waitress approached, a young woman, her hair finished in seven brightly colored Cadillac fins extending from hairline to the back. Left to right, the fins were magenta, turquoise, ecru, jet black, lavender, fuchsia, and candy apple red. She looked like a George Barris creation.

“Good evening, Mr. Bartol. I’m Kim. I’ll be your server tonight. May I tell you about our specials?”

“By all means.”

“Arugula, goat cheese and cranberries appetizer, broast beast brain, ancient grains with future grains…”

“What is the beast?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Is it warm blooded?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Be it fish or fowl?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Please continue.”

“Chopped spinach from frozen Bluebell containers recently discovered in a survivalist stronghold in Alaska, oscillating ocelot eggs, newburg of chewburg, and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie reenactments. Flute flies sauteed in granola oil.”

“That sounds so enticing. What else?”

“Last but not least, drizzled drongo chops with kiwi bird mayonnaise and grunt cakes made from our own special antediluvian recipe.”

“It all sounds so good. I’ll need a minute.”

“Of course.”

The waiter gestured and a transparent sphere of water hovered over Horatio’s glass.

“What happened to the man you replaced, Gustav?”

“Gustav was taking liberties with the lasagna. He had to be let go.”

“What kind of liberties?”

“You don’t want to know. Can I refill your drink while you’re waiting, Mr. Bartol?”

“Sure.”

She took his glass. He insisted on a tumbler. There was something about this girl that was oddly familiar, as if he’d met her before but couldn’t quite remember where or when. She returned, placing is drink in front of him on the round polished oak table. The martini came halfway up the glass, two olives speared on a toothpick.

“Have you made a decision?” Kim said.

“I’m feeling lucky. I’ll try the beast.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“You must wait and see.”

Horatio accidentally elbowed his white linen tablecloth to the floor. He and Kim both reached for it at once, their forearms touching.

And then they both knew.

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