20050329

Vim


“I need you to make a run out to the home in West Kindlebranch, right down off the highway,” said Big Ass Pete.

“The home?” asked Jenny.

“Yeah, the nursing home out there. But it’s a special deal, so pay attention. It’s going to take awhile, but that means you don’t have to worry about helping me close. When you’re done, you can just take off, alright? Just give the money to your Dad.”

“Is this for the nurses?” asked Jenny. “Some sort of party?”

“It’s for a friend,” said Big Ass Pete, “A guy that used to work here – way, way before your time. He’s got an angle and he needs a favor, and you know me: big ass, big heart. Especially when there might be a nice big payoff.”

Big Ass Pete actually got up from his workman’s comp stool behind the cash register and lumbered his way over to where Jenny stood wiping fingerprints off the cold case. It was always amusing to watch him maneuver down the aisles of his store, grunting and dainty in his stained “Pete’s Beer and Wine” apron. He could only fit in sideways, and he still had to lift his belt-buckled gut up like a pizza delivery to avoid knocking over whole rows of liquor bottles.

Jenny dutifully backed against the wall as he came towards her. He stopped, squinted, and squatted – beads of sweat breaking out on his neck like liquid ants burrowing out of his pores and spewing forth to scramble for food in the pit of his hairy back. He moved bottles around on the bottom shelf where they kept extra stock, staring at the ceiling and concentrating on his invisible hand. When he rose back up, there was a small wooden crate palmed in one meaty paw. He held it next to his ear, gently shook it, and then carefully handed it to Jenny.

“Here. The guys name is Albert. He’s been around forever. In fact, this place used to be called “Al’s Beer and Wine,” before he sold it to me and Little Pete. Ask for Three-Piece Al at the home, and they will know who you are talking about. He can’t shut up for two minutes.”

“Why Three-Piece?”

“He always wears a suit and tie. At least, he used to. I guess now he wears pajamas and a diaper.”

“What’s in the box?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just make sure you bring the bottle back when he’s done with it. We’ve got an arrangement. If anybody asks, it’s groceries or flowers or something. The nursing home doesn’t allow any deliveries from liquor stores, even though it’s a pretty enlightened place for a home. You are going to have to do some waiting around, probably – so you might want to take a book.”

“Sounds like a snap,” said Jenny, untying her apron.

“Remember,” said Big Ass Pete, waggling a finger like a stack of poker chips as he walked back to his stool. “Bring the bottle back with you. We’ve got an arrangement. And get cash when he pays up.”


2.

The “Pacific Coda” Retirement Landing was easy to find. It stood alone in a close-cropped field of yellow grass -- a stack of bricks and pavement long on shadows and short on charm baking in the heat of a volcanic summer evening. The pulsating drone of distant cicadas was hypnotic and did troubling things to the bowels. Jenny parked her pick-up in the front row of a depressingly empty parking lot, and grabbed the little dusty box that was her ticket out of yet another lonely night of helping sandal-wearing cavaliers obliterate the few accidental brains they had left.

The crate was unmarked, and at first she couldn’t figure out how to open it. After turning it around in her hands every which way like a blind mortician performing an infant autopsy, she finally found the sliding lid jammed into the top. When she unhinged the wooden catch, it un-sprung with an unexpected jar, and a blue glass bottle tumbled onto the floor, where it landed gracefully in a pile of old animal cracker boxes. The waning sunlight caught it, and it glowed like a poisonous sapphire in a sultan’s prized collection of cursed gemstones.

Jenny picked the bottle up and turned it in the light. It was a fat, pug thing – the width of a coffee mug, as tall as a tube of glue, and two-thirds empty. Writing was etched into the sides like puffed scar-tissue. A pattern of interlocking orchids circumnavigated the neck, and when she looked closer, she could see nymphs and satyrs chasing each other inside its twisting sinews.

LORD MAGNUM KILDARE’S
VIM AND VIGOUR RESTORATIVE
For gentlemen who need a bit of poop in their pot
Take one thimbleful with food
Do not exceed one dose per lunar month
Store in a cool, dry place
Shake well before using
“From fallow ground comes earthquakes and timber.”


The bottle had no ingredient list, and instead of a screw-off cap or cork, there was a pressurized valve contraption that required one to flip up a pair of bolted silver tongues. Jenny supposed there were a great many persons inside who could do with a bit of excreta in their receptacle, so she found the situation both amusing and satisfactory. She put the bottle in her purse, secured her long blonde hair in a ponytail, and got out.

A crowd of middlers all wearing matching mauve jumpsuits were gathered out front, milling about and smoking cigarettes. Nurses on break. A group of about fifteen had formed an obstructive semicircle, and were hooting and hollering about something going on inside it. Jenny stood on the curb to try to see over their heads, but their peaked caps were like a wooden fence. Not to be denied, she went in for a closer look.

Before anyone realized she was there, she managed to squeeze her way shoulder to shoulder with a warted, slathering brunette flushed purple with excitement. It didn’t matter. For the life of her, Jenny couldn’t figure out what was going on. A stringy-haired doctor in a long white lab coat and glasses had a pair of mitts on his hands and was crouched like a sumo wrestler. He was shouting encouragement to a giant woman in nothing but her undergarments (and cap) who was punching his mitts with all the force her enormous frame demanded, sending farty plumes of chalk up with every thunderous connection. She was tanned brown and handsome like a well-turned ox or buffalo, far bigger and stronger looking than even the massive male nurses hired to lift the bedridden into wheelchairs. The crowd was ecstatic, cheering her on and giving forgettable and contradictory advice.

“Visitor! We’ve got a visitor!” shouted someone behind. Everybody froze, and looked at Jenny. As one, the entire crowd dispersed, taking off in fifty different directions. Jenny turned around in circles, watching them go, looking for a friendly face from which to extort an explanation. No one even so much as made eye contact, and in a matter of seconds, she was left all alone to wonder if she had merely been hallucinating.

She gathered her wits, and went inside.

The “Pacific Coda” was a cross between a hotel and a hospital, like many other nursing homes Jenny had been in. It was only a small matter of intentional delusion to go from one perception to the other – like the optical illusion of the lady and the crone – but it was impossible to hold both. The man at the front desk was reading the financial pages, and would have fit in as a concierge at any successful big city hotel, if not for the rows and rows of medication on shelves behind him.

“Excuse me,” said Jenny. The man lowered his newspaper and then gave her a sharkish grin. This was the kind of guy who lingered during the evening restocking to watch from behind as Jenny unpacked boxes of cheap whiskey. He thought he was sly, but if this were a contest of wits and will, Jenny and her short skirt had already won.

“Excuse me, but what was going on out there?”

“Going on out where?” he said with interest, “I must have missed it.”

She frowned. She was pretty sure she had seen him in the crowd, but she couldn’t be certain. “Anyway, I’m here to see my grandfather,” she said.

“Your grandfather? And who might that be, sugar?”

“Three-Piece Al. I’m supposed to interview him for a school project. Can you tell me what room he’s in?”

The man looked confused, but not in any way dubious. In fact, he looked sort of intoxicated. Jenny had a strong suspicion he was helping himself to some of the chemical comforts provided by health insurance and advanced age. At the very least, he was stoned.

“You call your grandfather Three-Piece Al?” he asked.

“Doesn’t everybody? Call him that, I mean?”

The man picked up a clipboard and flipped through it, shrugging.

“Albert Brown. Room 255. That’s going to be upstairs, all the way at the end of the first hallway on the right. I’m sure this will be…you know…a pleasant surprise, although you might be better off coming back tomorrow.”

“How come?” asked Jenny.

The man suddenly tensed up, as if realizing he had said too much.

“No reason. It’s just that Three-Piece Al is a pretty busy guy for an old fella. He might not even be there.”

“Where would he be?” asked Jenny.

“The TV room, the pool. This isn’t a prison,” said the guy, coughing into his hand.

“I’ll take my chances,” said Jenny. “Thanks.”

Room 255 was unexceptional, except for the sound of extremely passionate sobbing within. The nameplate on the door said BROWN and SCHENKER. Jenny knocked tentatively, and it was flung open before her knuckles could retract, causing her to fall forward slightly.

An ancient gnome in a very expensive yellow suit stood suddenly in front of her. The man had more wrinkles than balled-up aluminum foil, and looked as if he were only held up by a rod shunted down his spine, his body curled around it like ivy on a garden trellis. He was evidently not the one doing the sobbing, because he was beaming at her, his gums pulled back and writhing like worms on a shrunken head. He looked to be the sort of person who never stopped beaming. He also looked like the sort of person for whom beaming was the natural result of actual enthusiasm and affection.

“You are Little Pete’s daughter,” he said immediately. “You’ve got your mother’s BIG ol’ damn eyes. Look at ‘em.” His own green eyes flashed like waves of pea soup fragmenting pinpricks of stolen sun.

“I’m Jenny. And you must be Three-Piece Al,” she said.

“Well, of course I am,” said Al, grabbing her by the hand, shaking it, and then pulling her inside. His grip was surprisingly strong. And dry. This close, he smelled like talcum powder and camphor, but not in a bad way. The room was about the size of a hotel suite, and every square inch of wall was plastered with science fiction, horror, and action movie posters from the fifties. As far as furniture went, there was two of everything, and it was all particle board.

“How’s your dad doing?” asked Al, nearly shouting.

“He’s fine. It’s his day off,” said Jenny. Al nodded like he already knew. Maybe he did.

“The situation is unexpectedly dire,” he said, “Did you happen to pass a mustacheoed cretin in the hallway dragging a pigtailed ninny behind him?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Consider yourself lucky, then. We just had an unexpected visit from the contemptible son and granddaughter of my good friend Fasco, here. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now he’s inconsolable. I’m about to give up and write the whole damn thing off.”

On the bed closest to the window, somebody had shot an elephant and left it for dead. The man lying there -- bawling like an ambulance siren and holding a pillow over his face as if trying to smother himself -- was easily the biggest man Jenny had ever seen. He had a chest like a footlocker, and arms like oaks: wrinkles, knots, and all. He was wearing a pit-stained T-shirt and corduroy pants, and his bare feet, if severed, could be stuffed and used as coffee tables by thrifty intellectuals. At some point during his tenure, the man’s bed had been crushed by his weight, and the legs had given out completely. They were splayed at transverse angles like the legs of a horse crushed by a cement mixer.

Three-Piece Al karate chopped the brim of a steel grey bowler hat that was hanging on a coat rack by the door. It flipped into his hand, and he immediately used it to cover the smoke detector above the TV. He lit a cigarette and sat down on his own bed.

“Pull it together, you lousy Kraut!” said Al, his smile more softened now -- more ironical. “We’ve got company, and you’ve only got an hour before bingo. An hour!”

“Geh zur Hölle, du geckenhafter Eulenspiegel!” moaned Fasco. “Mein Herz! Ach, mein geschwollenes Herz!”

Al hooked a thumb and shook his head. Look at this guy.

“I brought your bottle,” said Jenny, “The…um…restorative.”

“That’s all well and good, but there’s no restorative for a broken heart,” said Al, scratching his chin. “Except maybe making time with a pretty young girl.”

“What happened?” asked Jenny, ignoring his innuendo.

“It was the damnedest thing,” said Al. “His son shows up here out of the blue with a whole file folder full of birthday and Christmas cards. He sits down and casually explains that the doctors have told him that the first signs of Alzheimer’s are starting to set in, and that before anybody knows it, Fasco here won’t even be able to sign his own name. So his son pulls out a fountain pen, and makes his Vati sign Christmas and birthday cards for the next twenty years! Happy 7th, Happy 8th, Happy 9th…so on and so forth. Halfway through, Fasco starts mumbling in German and starts to cry. His son makes him finish up, anyway. Fasco tries to hug them and tell them how much he loves them, but they scramble away like marbles down a storm drain. That’s when he really broke down. I don’t understand who his son was trying to fool, though – Fasco’s granddaughter was right here in the room with him, making a godawful mess. Maybe he snuck in some sort of living will among the cartoon drugstore garbage.”

“You do not know,” shouted Fasco miserably, “You haf no flesh and blutt.”

“I don’t get it,” said Jenny. “I mean it’s strange, but…”

“He’s just being sentimental and silly. He thinks it means they won’t ever come visit him anymore. He’s probably right, but that’s nothing to get upset about. In fact, if it was me, I’d dance a Carolina reel. I might anyway, if I didn’t have two busted hips and hemorrhoids the size of aircraft carriers.”

Fasco’s tears seemed to ebb, and he sat up, his bed protesting noisily. He wasn’t just big, thought Jenny, he was OLD. Three-Piece Al looked like he was about 75 or 80, but Fasco could have easily been 10 or 15 years his senior. His bald head and face were covered with coarse white stubble that looked like tropical fruit rot. It was still an imposing mug, positively wretched with character and currency, but it hung limply on a translucent and mottled neck that struggled with every breath. His skin was all loose and rash-colored like plucked chicken, with grey, veiny river deltas that formed epic poems in ancient spider cuneiform. Still, he was a beast of a man – or at least had digested one long ago and was still living off the residue. Jenny couldn’t imagine what this guy would have looked like in his prime. The guy on the back of the superhero comics who advertised for quack muscle pills, perhaps.

Jenny noticed that his left arm -- the one that had been turned away from her -- was shriveled almost to the bone, and hung uselessly at his side like a sprung-open briefcase. It was still bigger around than her leg.

“Anyway, here’s your laxative,” said Jenny, removing the bottle from her purse, “I guess I’d better be going soon, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Laxative!” shrieked Three-Piece Al, snatching the bottle from her and holding it to his chest like it was a long lost lover. “Woman, bite your tongue!” He scrambled to the door, opened it a crack to make sure no one was lurking outside, and then bolted it shut.

“This is our secret weapon,” said Al, licking his lips and reading the instructions on the bottle, “With this little wonder, Fasco here is going to make us all rich as thieves.”

Jenny didn’t say anything. Al chuckled, and set the bottle on the nightstand.

“Let me fill you in,” said Al, “In roughly 45 minutes, Fasco here is going to fight an exhibition bare-knuckle boxing match with Nurse Gretchen Jankowski in the storage closet of the auditorium. Even though Fasco was once world-renowned as the most deadly street fighter ever produced by the Teutonic people, the odds are thirty-to-one against him, and only one person has laid down money in his favor. Me.”

“Say again?” said Jenny.

“It’s a long story,” said Al. “And we don’t have time to get into it. Nurse Jankowski and Dr. Patel run the physical fitness program here at Pacific Coda, and they’ve had it out for Fasco since he showed up. Fasco was a deserter in the wrong army, and they figure now’s the time to get some revenge. Two weeks ago, there was an incident with a punching bag that got destroyed, and Fasco made this ridiculous challenge out of sheer anger and spite. One thing led to another, and now there’s good money on the line. Patel and Jankowski think its gonna be no contest, but they don’t have THIS.” He brandished the bottle triumphantly.

“I don’t know what’s in there,” said Jenny, “But I saw Dr. Patel and Nurse Jankowski outside, and you don’t stand a chance.”

“You are young, pretty, smart -- and ultimately ignorant,” said Al. “But that’s okay. You’ll learn to know an angle when you see one. I may be an old fool, but I don’t bet unless I’m going to win. And if we can get this big sack of pathetic prunes back on his haunches (he tossed a box of Kleenex at Fasco, who was currently trying to stand up with the aid of an aluminum cane), Kildare’s will do the rest.”

“She is Frau,” said Fasco grimly, his face tightening and cheeks nearly dry, “I can beat her viss no druggink.”

Albert snorted. “She is Frau, and you are a ninety-year old cripple.”

“Do you seriously expect some ancient patent medicine to do anything at all?” asked Jenny incredulously.

“This is not just any ancient patent medicine! This is Kildare’s! Men have died, and men have killed for bottles of Kildare’s! Empires have been built around the slightest drop! It is the elixir of life; distilled madness and liquid glory; milk from the teat of Jehovah himself!” said Al, turning the bottle in his hands.

“What’s in it?” asked Jenny.

“Ja, vot poison are you trying to gift me, Braun?”

“No one knows,” said Al, shaking his head, “I got this bottle in 1957 from a quadriplegic merchant marine in exchange for a handgun, a night with my girlfriend, and a crate of vodka. He was going to kill himself and told me he didn’t want it anymore. That it had already caused too much pain, and the best thing I could do with it was pour it out the window. He told me he got it from a ship captain, a triple blooded member of the Chinese Order of the Pink and Tan Dragon, who he murdered by tying him to the anchor chain of his boat and running him through the coil.”

“How did he tie him to the anchor chain if he was quadriplegic?” asked Jenny dubiously.

“Never mind that,” said Al, “Let’s just say my girlfriend was never the same after that night, and she used to show people the origami swan he made her with his tongue as a forget-me-not. According to this cripple, the active ingredient in Kildare’s is the homeopathic distillation of Napoleon Bonaparte’s dried and crushed testicles. But that sounds like bullshit to me. It doesn’t matter what’s in it. I’ve seen it work. Until I got into trouble in Belgium and had to come back to the States, I used this stuff to fix fights in the European underground boxing world for twenty years. I’ve seen 105 pound teenagers hopped up on Kildare’s take down bull elephants. I don’t care who made it or how it works. It does, and that’s enough for me. You’ll see. But you’ve got to want to fight, Fasco – or it’s just going to make you sick. It takes awhile to kick in, so you have to decide.”

Jenny crossed her arms and leaned up against the wall. There was no way in hell she was leaving now.

“It is off no use, mein freunds. My will is cabbage,” said Fasco, giving up on his cane and falling back on his bed with a small explosion.

“It’s not about that, Fassie,” said Al, setting the bottle of Kildare’s down on the nightstand between them. “It’s about respect, and getting some good revenge in while we’re at it. Do it for every crappy musician or church group they’ve foisted on us, do it for the soggy mixed vegetables and crusty tapioca pudding on Sundays, do it for that smug look in the eyes of the doctors whenever we tell them the pills aren’t working. Don’t do it for your old family: do it for your new one. For Myrtle LaTours and Crazy Eights Scarlotti. For Herman Villareal, God rest his soul. What would he say if he saw you backing out now?”

“He vood insist my brains were made from pooping,” said Fasco.

“That’s right,” said Al, turning away and facing a poster for The Amazing Colossal Man. “He sure would. With the money we make, we won’t just be able to pay off our debts and relatives. We’ll be big shots around here.”

Fasco screwed up his face in a grimace, like he was choking down sauerkraut bile. Jenny watched him intently. With almost an audible snap, something happened to him. He squared up his shoulders, let his cane slip from his fingers, and stood up to his full, hulking height.

“Fasco will fight,” he said. And before Jenny or Al could do anything, he grabbed the bottle of Kildare’s, ripped off the silver pressure handles with his teeth, and started chugging.

“No, you idiot!” said Al, lunging and nearly falling on his face. “Just a little bit!”

But it was too late. The bottle was empty. Fasco wiped his mouth with the back of one wrinkly paw, and set the bottle back on the nightstand.

“Can’t you read, you big monkey?” said Al, shaking with shock and anger and fondling his tie.

“It tastes like nussink. Like vater.”

Three-Piece Al sat back down, put his head in his hands, and sighed.

“What does that mean?” asked Jenny. “Will he be okay?”

“I don’t actually know,” said Al. “I really don’t think so. But there’s nothing for it now. We’ve got to get down there and get warmed up.”

“Big Ass Pete was very clear that I bring back the bottle,” said Jenny, “And I was supposed to get cash for it.”

“You’ll have to wait,” said Al. “I won’t have anything until after the fight. After the dough comes rolling in.”

“He doesn’t look very ‘restored’ to me,” said Jenny.

“Like I said, it takes awhile to kick in.”

Three-Piece Al retrieved his hat from the smoke alarm, and led the way. It took a bit longer to get there than expected. They had to stop twice to let Fasco rest.

The auditorium was packed with senior citizens in an advanced state of disrepair. They were playing incredibly slow bingo and were propped up like cardboard cut-outs in their fold-out chairs. Al did a once around, and then went in through the back door.

“Man, these people depress me,” he whispered to Jenny. “If I ever get this bad, come put a pillow over my face and sing me a lullaby.”

The guy from the front desk was calling out numbers, trying to mask the rumpus coming from a room near the stage. No one seemed to hear him, however, and everyone kept yelling for the young man to speak up. Al made his way through unnoticed. Jenny kept close behind him, and Fasco held up the distant rear, bringing his cane down forcefully with every step, his jowls dangling like shirtsleeves.

Jenny kept waiting for Fasco to suddenly turn red in the face and keel over. Instead, he just looked faintly nauseous.

The room where the chairs and card tables were normally stored was filled with all of the rambunctious nurses Jenny had seen outside. The few elderly people attending were quickly revealed to be sympathetic cronies. Hard liquor was being passed around in measuring cups, and there was a pair of nurses making out in the corner. At first the room was frightened into sobriety by the presence of an outsider, especially one so young and innocent looking. But Three-Piece Al quickly assured them that Jenny was on the level, and then they relaxed and went back to whatever it is they were doing. Al proceeded to take a few late bets and to dicker with the dry erase board that had been set up to post odds. Fasco, who was now sweating out a sticky yellow film that formed quivering bubbles over his enormous pores, sat down in one corner of the improvised boxing arena and began to mumble to himself in German. Interested parties poked and prodded him, and clucked their tongues sympathetically before upping their money.

The door banged open. In came Nurse Jankowski and Dr. Patel. The room cheered, and Nurse Jankowski held her fists over her head and grinned. She brought them together in a powerful CLOP, flexed, and then did some shadow boxing for the crowd’s amusement. She wore gold trunks and a black top, and still had on her peaked nurse’s cap. Someone handed her a cup of whiskey, and draped an American flag over her shoulders. She took a big gulp and then picked up one of the younger male nurses and gave him a sloppy kiss. Dr. Patel stood on a chair and called the room to order. He wore a top hat.

“We don’t have much time,” he said, “so let’s get this started. Is Fasco ready, Al?”

Jenny and Albert looked at Fasco. Despite his grimly determined jaw and flashing eyes, he looked as if he could collapse from nervous exhaustion at any moment. He couldn’t even keep his good arm steady, and his hand was clutching his cane as if the Reaper were pulling him backward with all the power of the sucking void behind him. Perhaps this wasn’t far from the truth.

“He’s ready,” said Al.

“Then let’s do it,” said Patel. “You all know the rules. No rounds, no mercy. First one who can’t get back up loses. If a fighter wants to end the fight, he turns his back. If you want to end it, Al, just toss in your hat. I’ll do likewise.”

Patel got down off his chair. Al got down behind Fasco and said something to him. He nodded vigorously and stood up. Carefully, Al took his cane away and left Fasco standing unsteadily on his own two feet.

“Somebody say go,” said Patel.

“Go!” cheered the room.

Three-Piece Al planted his feet, and then gave Fasco a shove in the right direction. Fasco hobbled forward a few yards, and then Jankowski was on him, pummeling relentlessly. She looked like an anatomical model of a horse, all tendons and veins and churning muscle. Every time she connected and Fasco only stumbled, the crowd gave a surprised groan. Fasco couldn’t dance, but he could still take a punch. She was a horse, but he was the barn itself. He even got his good hand up and tried to swat some of the blows aside, but he was unable to return any, and after 30 seconds of constant damage, he was already swollen and swooning.

“Come on, Fasco!” shouted Jenny. Al took his hat off, and closed his eyes. It was not looking good.

A particularly brutal right cross sent Fasco spinning nearly off his legs, and he hung there doubled over like a sweater on a clothesline. Nurse Jankowski mopped sweat off her brow with her long brown hair, and gave the crowd a grin. No matter how big or strong Fasco had once been, one more uppercut would cripple him. At this point, Jenny was just hoping he would survive.

“Look!” shouted one of the nurses, “I think he likes it.”

Everyone laughed. Jenny couldn’t see what was so funny until Fasco turned toward her to puke. He had an erection so large it lifted up his shorts like a circus tent. She nudged Al, and he opened his eyes back up. He laughed out loud.

“Hot damn,” said Al. “Watch this, Jenny…and learn from your elders and betters.”

Instead of puking, Fasco stood up stock stiff and started to smile. There was real delirium in his eyes. Spanish fly, which was actually a crushed up African beetle, worked by infecting the urinary tract and causing it to painfully distend, an inflammation often mistaken for sexual arousal. It appeared to Jenny that Kildare’s did the same thing to the mind itself.

Nurse Jankowski, however, was certain she had him on the ropes. She went in for the kill, winding up like she was throwing a softball.

“Get him,” shouted Dr. Patel, standing up and crushing his top hat in his agitated hands. “Tear him apart!”

Then an amazing thing happened which caused the entire room to gasp in unison. She swung at his face, and Fasco’s shriveled, useless left arm popped up like an underwater buoy and caught her fist. Nurse Jankowski just stood there with a stupid expression on her face.

“Hold on to your hat, Braun,” said Fasco to Al, winking with the eye he had left.

“And now, liebchen,” said a bloody, grinning, deadly Fasco Schenker to his shocked opponent, “I think now vee give a little show.”

And that was when Fasco turned into some kind of pneumatic Frankenstein. Every appendage on his body began to operate independently, as if all neural lines of communication had suddenly been severed. The last order from his brain was evidently to murder Nurse Jankowski, and that is what his arms and legs proceeded to do, each in their own malevolent, insane way.

His legs stamped and kicked like car crushing steel. He lost one orthopedic shoe, but he just kept going.

His right arm pounded like a battering ram punching through a bank vault. The crunch of liver-spotted knuckles breaking one after another was sickening, but undeniable.

His left arm whipped around like a length of rubber hose – floppy, painful, and fast. It kept catching Nurse Jankowski right in the eyes, but every time she tried to scream she got a face full of fist.

His eyes rolled back in his head and his tongue lolled. The parts of his face not bruised into royal purple beef turned grey. His pelvis jerked back and forth like the tail of an excited dog.

“Aach, Gott!” he shouted, his torso sagging and going limp. His arms and legs fought on.

Fasco cornered Nurse Jankowski against one wall and began beating her into sloppy Joe. The spectators scattered, and Nurse Jankowski fell quickly into unconsciousness. The wall kept her standing, and Fasco kept punching. Jenny looked closely, but it didn’t seem like Fasco was even breathing anymore. His eyes were shut, and his expression seemed eternally frozen.

“Stop the fight! Stop the fight!” screamed Dr. Patel, waving his top hat back and forth.

Five orderlies ran in and grabbed Fasco around the neck and back. After a considerable amount of effort, they were able to pull him off. Nurse Jankowski slumped to the floor. A sixth orderly lowered his shoulder and tackled Fasco from behind, hitting him right where his knees bent. He fell to the ground, but kept kicking and punching like a wind-up robot.

Disgusted doctors and nurses began showering cash on Al, muttering to themselves and trying to figure out how exactly he had cheated. Albert handed Jenny a wad of cash, and then gave her a demeaning pat on the head.

Dr. Patel tended to Nurse Jankowski, waking her up with a bucket of water, quickly determining that she was okay, and then describing in great detail how miserable a fighter and person she was.

One of the orderlies called for absolute silence. He had his head on Fasco’s still-bucking chest.

“I think his heart stopped,” said the orderly. “I think he’s dead.”


3.

Her father was sitting on the front porch with a lit pipe and a tall glass of milk when Jenny got home. She sat down next to him and they both watched the street together for a little while.

“Did you get the money?” asked Little Pete, finally.

She fished in her purse and brought out both the empty bottle of Kildare’s and the wad of cash it had created.

“Three-Piece Al said he’s sorry he used up the whole bottle,” said Jenny. “That you had some sort of deal when you bought the place from him, and he wishes he could make it up to you.”

“It’s alright,” said Little Pete, “We haven’t used it in years, and we probably never would again anyway. I never trusted it, and we make enough money with honest business. Albert never had the patience for that.”

“I saw a man fight himself to death today,” said Jenny, suddenly. A big lumber truck rolled by as punctuation.

“Pardon me?” asked her father.

“It was a bet. Al said it was how he wanted to die, anyway. So his son will have to tear up all of those greeting cards.”

Her father nodded and took a puff on his pipe. Somehow, it was explanation enough. Later, he would fill the empty bottle of Kildare’s halfway full with perfume-scented tap water and give it to someone else with the same story about Napoleon’s testicles. But for now he was content to simply sit and ponder the absurdity of it all. He wondered if anybody would even buy it in this day and age.

His daughter, as usual, didn’t say anything about his milk mustache.

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the herb said...

Most of this is easy to visualize, hence fun to read. It probably will be hell to be at the mercy of our kids, our weak-minded and even weaker-willed nursing home personnel... if we're lucky enough to live that long.

Some of your subtleties (Nap's contribution to the elixer) aren't as subtle as they could (should?) be. Either way, have fun with it; it's your creation. Stuff like that I consider "spice." A little spice is good for a meal.

Morticians don't perform autopsies.

Finally, cut "dubiously." Have Jenny cross her arms over her chest, then ask her rather contentious or argumentative question. You're making the word "dubious" do too much in that sentence.

I've now read at least 10 of your stories/articles.