The Thin Man on Assignment

1DBD4BFF-E32B-4584-B058-469BDD270CC4The cry of a peacock, flies buzz in my head/ ceiling fan’s broken, there’s a heat in my bed/ street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Bob Dylan

Dateline Singapore, late fall during the 100 year anniversary of the end of the Great War

This little country, such an unlikely success story, such a strange winding of forces. The Thin Man has been on land for two weeks and his sea legs have mostly subsided. His stomach is still in limbo; years of gruel below the waves have seen to that.

Now there is nothing more that the Thin Man wanted after washing up here earlier in the season then a long weekend. Say, five years. Five years in the hammock, five years frolicing with the lovely ladies at the bar with the occasional flyer over in Macau. Five years out of the swim of modern capitalism, if you can even call it that. Five years clean. That was the dream. Twelve days in and the Thin Man was looking for work, the money gone in a haze of long days and longer nights. Wine, women, song, and a speedboat ride or two will add up quick. C’est La Vie partner. That’s what comes from burning holes up to heaven, in the words of the bard.

The Thin Man is a gamer, and is constitutionally unable to categorize situations as problems. No problemo senor, no worries mate. Instead, he has a few issues. The first being, he is barely employable. It turns out that a few decades on the ocean floor running the house game prepares him for casino work, underground games, and giving blood. That’s about it; he wants no part of card games and giving blood makes him nauseous. Also, he has a limited quantity. So, he asked around, kept his ear to the wind. A shipmate turned him onto a broker of services of sorts, the kind of individual who specializes in assisting upstanding institutions with their shining mission statements and their CSR campaigns navigate the grey areas of competition and market position. The broker, like all of his kind, couldn’t give a shit who he was pimping as long as he got his 8% commision. It was he that took the Thin Man’s data points and turned them into a resume which accentuated the high stakes, low reference point nature of his previous work. A bite came back within 36 hours. The broker knew his lane, apparently.

The man from Company X introduced himself as Alejandro, and Alejandro came bearing work. “What sort of work,” asked the Thin Man. Alejandro’s smile was thin as a razor. “The best kind, the kind where you get in and out.”

“I deal cards,” replied the Thin Man, “I’m not a safecracker.

Alejandro’s smile widened fractionally. “Of course not. We are a respectable company with a 400 year history. This work is simple. The company is in negotiations around a merger with Green Group Ltd. They are playing hardball and we need to know their real intentions.”

“Basically you want to know if they are bluffing?”

“Precisely. And who better than an operator such as yourself to find this out?”

“And what do I have to go on?”

“The Green Group will be having a party at the Swissotel downtown tomorrow night. There will be 200 guests. You will infiltrate the party and get the lowdown. That is what you British say yes, “the lowdown.”

The Thin Man was not British but it didn’t matter. “Yes, that’s right. OK, book me a room on the club floor. I’ll need a new suit, a haircut, and a cell phone. How’s $500 a day for expenses and $20,000 for the job?”

Alejandro eyed him carefully. “What about the broker?”

“That’s your end,” said the Thin Man. My end is $20,000.”

“Deal. Don’t fuck up.”

“I don’t intend to.” And with that the conversation was over. The Thin Man had acquitted himself well, but only by the grace of god. Several things were running through his mind;

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Some Things I’ve Learned by 44: A Poem

6AD91397-DC97-465E-808C-E0BD7853ACF3.jpeg

There’s a lot I don’t know

and a few things I might

life’s a hell of a show

a bit tough to get right

well, some folks they want you

and other folks don’t

some folks they will

and other folks won’t

you’ll get plenty of chances

you’ll blow the best part

you’ll twirl at some dances

you’ll get shot through the heart

some folks you can trust

up to a point, more or less

others? trust’s a bust

they’ll split the joint, leave a mess

try and tell the truth

you’ll take blow after blow

don’t tell the truth and

no one’ll save your soul

anything’s possible, in dreams

who’s better than you?

everyone, it seems

but it just isn’t true

they’re all full of bull

faking til’ they make it

so just push when they pull

baby stand when they sit

cause no one knows shit

and everything’s thin

I’ve been around a bit

a never was, a has-been

but that ain’t you baby

it ain’t me anymore

no one can save me

I’ve outlasted the war

so all you got is today

and maybe not that

that’s all I’ve got to say

take the meat, leave the fat.

FIN

Azerbaijan, 1990. Part I

14F05E5B-56BC-4624-AB18-F05B2E729E12So you think you can tell/ heaven from hell?

Pink Floyd

INTRODUCING MITCHELL GREY

March 7th, 1990. Mitchell Grey waits at a make-shift roadblock on the Iranian side of the Iranian/ Azerbaijani border at Astara. The Azerbaijani populace has been on a 40 day general strike since a desperate and cornered Gorbachev ordered a crackdown on the citizens of Baku. Nerves on the border are stretched thin, to say the least. Grey takes his time, keeps his head down. He turned 30 in November, a mid-Sagittarius, born adventurer. Not that he’d had much choice. Of course, Grey is no more his name than it is yours, unless that is your name happens to be Grey.

Four or five people, all men, are processed and it is Grey’s turn. He turns over his passport for inspection. The customs officer looks it over, gingerly as if it might be edged with arsenic. “What is your profession?” he asks, in perfectly good English. “Engineer,” replies Grey. He had settled on this option after much thought. Grey stands 5 foot 10, with clipped hair, three-day stubble, and work boots. He is operating on a $1500 advance paid three weeks ago in Milan by his handler whom he had met for 10 minutes. Precious little remains, and Grey is in no position, no mood to pretty himself up for the Astara crossing. He does not look like a businessman or financier, and is not about to take the risk of trying. Nor does he look like a writer, despite the capaciousness of that particular category. He looks like what he is, a hand for hire, a mercenary. Engineers are scientists, more or less, and he hoped that at least a patina of respect would be accorded his proffered status.

“Engineer of what? You are here to steal our oil, yes.” Not a question. The border guard gives Grey a look somewhere between a sneer and a smirk. A game player, thought Grey, a patriot perhaps, but a game player first. This is usable information. Grey takes a low deep breath and forced himself to relax. “A structural engineer. I specialize in basements and aqueducts,” he replies. Grey hoped that the word “aqueduct” would escape the guard and that he would tire of the game soon. However the young man was not such an easy mark.

“Basements,” said the guard, with heavy sarcastic emphasis. He turns to the man to his right, an older man, long past fed up with the conversation. “You have business in our country about basements?” It was time for Grey to fall back on the cover story. “I am not here on business. I am meeting an elderly couple in the countryside. They are passionate hunters, and we will be hunting your famous Caucasian snowcock. As well as of course quail and pheasant.”

“So you are on holiday,” askes the guard. “Holiday, now, after the brutal crackdown of the Russians, you are here to shoot birds on holiday.”

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Andrea in the Far East: Night One

Intense silence

As she walked in the room

Her black robes trailing

Sister of the moon

Stevie Nicks

Andrea got off the second leg of the flight to Seoul around 14:30 on Tuesday, military time. She had quasi-slept, faded somewhere into her subconscious, for an hour and a little. Andrea was not a heavy explorer of her subconscious, more like she knew it was there. On the flight, up there under an ocean of ozone, black window spiders jousted with a velvet gloved countess and bunches of green grapes for supremacy of the space. That was all fine, she was essentially sober, Mr. Brown had been rendered comatose by hour one, and as she rolled into customs she felt, if not exactly happy, at least ready. Ready for the industry conference and its banalities, ready for the Lotte Hotel downtown with its wall of kimchi options at breakfast, ready, even, for a puleun or two. Maybe. We’ll just have to see.

The conference “event” is set to kick off at 8 Wednesday morning, and Andrea had no intention of being on time. Events, by and large, are well planned and poorly designed. They are programmed to run and be completed, and the narrative arc conception is, well, bad. The Seoul event would be no different. “An event should be eventful,” someone once told here, and Andrea had held on to that guy like a tailsman. And, sometimes when the event lacks eventfulness, well, you gotta inject a little of that yourself. She giggled at the thought; the possibilities were many. She got game, our girl. Watch the f*** out boys.

Why don’t you ask him what’s going on?

Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?

Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?

Lindsey Buckingham

Jump cut on account of a lazy writer. Sorry Andrea, you just lost several hours. That’s the breaks baby.

10:47 PM, Andrea is on the STREET. Can’t learn it in the office, gotta learn it on the STREET. Monsieur Puleun 1 is strolling with a feathered friend on the boulavard. Site of a protest from earlier in the day that Andrea missed. Another peanut tantrum? Korean scandels are unrivaled in their bizarre and byzantine nature. And, the assassin chick of the brother of the NK head dude wore an LOL shirt. So 2017. Check the video. Check the record/ check the guy’s track record. (Le) homo sapien sapiens, them’s bizarre. Puleun 1 sees Andrea; she sees him. Opportunity presents itself–Andrea, she needs a token, a takeaway, a reminder that she was here at all.  At the “event” site no doubt volunteers are cross-stressing before cross-dressing. Could not care less—that’s all paid for by the company. Event spaces are super permeable. So is the puleun. Andrea swings into action.

“My friend, do you know how to get to Sungnyemun?”

“Yes I do. Go with me?”

Andrea pondered. On the one hand, well, you know. Street guy? Seriously? And on the other, well, she is on vacation. A. B, she has her needs. Not what you are thinking brother. Andrea’s needs are a little more, well, esoteric. For lack of a better word.

“For a little while. Let’s walk.” Andrea slips her arm under his and feels him thrill to her touch. Hooking, hooking is easy. She’s a natural. It’s pretty clear.

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Andrea Flies to Seoul, South Korea

5C105D1B-5CAA-4FA7-B455-35E91B1ADB53She’s got the Eye of Fatima/ on the wall of her motel room.

Camper Van Beethoven

The plane eased into its docking point, 15 minutes late. Andrea wasn’t fretting; she’d been around a bit and knew that things sometimes worked. Other times, well they didn’t.

She was not on the run, not exactly anyway. Nonetheless, the 27 hour trip from Buenos Aries to Seoul via Atlanta would put half a world of distance between her and M. Azur. Welcome distance for Andrea, as the formerly desultory attentions of her blue friend had recently taken a turn for the more incessant. In short, he was calling her daily, one thin pretext after another. “Everything’s thin,” she mused, and M. Azur could thin paint. A classy guy who makes decisions and implements is what she needed, not some milquetoast beta-male in the medical tubing industry.  For Christ’s sake already. So Seoul beckoned, and the plane, the plane was late.

Andrea scratched her nose, adjusted her glasses. The turnaround crew would need 20, 25 minutes minimum to turn the plane over for the flight. A quick scan of her messages showed three new bleats from her would-be paramour. Pretext, text, contex—still a no. She could handle herself, could Andrea. “Many apologies, I have been so busy,” she texted. “Dinner meeting is not possible this week. Tubing sales are up—talk again.” M.Azur would be a blue mist in no time. Ground staff opened pre-boarding, and Andrea, zoned in section 4, made a lateral move into zone 3 to make sure her carry-on had the room it needed. “Who’s better than me?”

Andrea is settled into her seat, 14A, a window seat. Bottle of water, headphones and a sleeping mask. Structured correctly, a plane flight can be made to feel like an undersea journey. All it requires is a little imagination.

Andrea has all she needs to swim a little up there in the ether. Her phone is set to airplane mode and the seat next to her is vacant. Bonus, she tells herself. A non-descript business traveler has the aisle. He looks more like a brown than a blue. Won’t be an issue.

Andrea is a lady, a women really, somewhere in her later 20s. Probably, and we won’t ask. Attractive, but no waif, she enjoys fine dining and a glass or three of wine. When she drinks her cheeks get rosy red which accentuates her dimples. The gym is not the place to find a girl of her kind; the Mr. Blues of the world are advised to try the patissiere instead. Buy her a piece of pie. Cherry, lemon, coconut cream. Pumpkin, peach, pecan. Andrea might be a little picky with her guys; her pie game is more omnivorous. Without really trying, she has the attention of a half-dozen men within a thirty-year age range, all of whom she deflects with the grace of a fencer. Buenos Aries, Rome, Tampa, Algiers it doesn’t seem to matter where she goes there will be a guy or two. Boys on board and boys on deck. What’s the opposite of a chick magnet? Andrea might not be quite that, but she has options. A passing funny thought, so she dials up an early Bitch Magnet record on her phone.  That was Sooyoung Park’s first band, pre-Seam. Little Park, big city, Korean heritage. Going to Seoul, apropos. Bitch Magnet rocks.

What does Andrea do? It’s a question she can’t quite answer herself. Broadly speaking, she is in sales, a cog in the vast machinery of deal making between multi-nationals. In other words, she is around transactions, helps to facilitate them. An “industry conference” awaits in Seoul. The Korean word for blue is “puleun.” Will there be any puleuns at the industry event? almost surely. Andrea sighs at the smallness of it all. White wine please, make it a double.

The plane is well up over the Pacific by now and Andrea is tipsy at thirty-thousand feet. Where is she really from? It would take a month of pies to get that out of her.  A month of pies and a month of Sundays. So we shall say she is post-racial, like the women in Code 46.

“In a dystopian future, insurance fraud investigator William Gold (Tim Robbins) arrives in Shanghai to investigate a forgery ring for “papelles,” futuristic passports that record people’s identities and genetics. Gold falls for Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), the woman in charge of the forgeries.”

Is “topian” the opposite of dystopian, she wonders. Three drinks and an hour of Bitch Magnet in and she’s feeling a little topian herself. Andrea would be fine in the world of Code 46. Hell, she’d probably thrive.

to be continued…

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Bitch Magnet.

Camper Van Beethoven, “Eye of Fatima.”

Code 46, dir. Michael Winterbottom.

The Hold Steady, “Spinners.”

Michael Knott, “Double”