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45. TWO TITS FOR A TAT

March 16, 2008

Mark McGuire took a long, deep lungful of air. He gently rested his skull on his back. He relaxed his chest causing his cheeks to bloat. As he left go of his lips his breath punctured through and escaped to the ceiling. After a few seconds he felt an uncomfortable strain on his neck and, slowly stretching the muscles, returned his head to its normal position.

 

“Tony, I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. I should have known that you’d never play a part in anything malicious. As long as I’ve known you, no matter what sort of shit I’ve thrown at you, you’ve always been impeccable. I’m sorry; the Layla thing with my brother disorientated me. Please forgive me, my behaviour was inexcusable.”

 

[Tony]:

“Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it. But don’t beat yourself up too much. Your anger was understandable. Neither of us could have known. Let’s just look past this one. I’m good with that. So, I guess that means you bought their story?”

 

[McGuire]:

“Yeah, I think I did. Enough of it. I doubt their analysis was comprehensive but it fits well enough with what I saw with my own eyes.

 

Actually, Tony, for the sake of completeness, what did you see? I know you didn’t see them look and talk to me but maybe there was more.”

 

Tony related his memory of the scene to McGuire.

 

[McGuire]:

“Sounds pretty close. How about this Azrael? What did it look like to you?”

 

[Tony]:

“I didn’t see anything. I assumed your brother John might have been speaking figuratively… or well, seeing things.”

 

[McGuire]:

“No. No. I saw it. A large darkness to the left of her. Thing is, it left with her too. Maybe it wasn’t what John thought it was. Who knows?”

 

[Tony]:

“Hmmmm, that’s so strange.

 

Mark, how are you feeling now? It must have been a hell of a shock.”

 

[McGuire]:

“Mixed feelings Tony. And talking of mixing, I feel like I need a drink. Join me. Have a whiskey sour. We’ll drink to the strength of our friendship.”

 

[Tony]:

“Sounds like a superb idea. Seriously though, with a friend’s concern, how do you feel?”

 

[McGuire]:

“Well, as I said, this revelation is an absolute goldmine. Not just because of the miraculous morphing but because it puts paid to the majority of potential law suits. You see, I’ll sell it as science fiction rather than as a documentary. So if Tommy X, or more probably government X, is seen killing someone, and he actually wants to complain about it, the media legal eagles can say:

This is a piece of creative art by an unknown author. We explicitly stated that, despite its use of real historical figures, we don’t claim it is an accurate depiction of actual events – and indeed, as shown in viewer feedback, there are many public interpretations of that scene. We saw you cuddle a cat, what did you see? Are you sure that people weren’t responding to their perception of you?

 

You might as well sue Russia for being the baddies in the old Bond movies. Kevin Osty of GM-MC said he’d need a $100Billion a year legal fund. Well, with this information, I’ll go halves with him. I’ll tell him I’ll own half the legal risk for 20 a year. Anyway, the price will go up.”

 

[Tony]:

“You know this could upset a lot of powerful people. They wouldn’t like their reputation damaged even if they don’t have any legal consequences to face. Let’s face it. People will believe what they see and react accordingly.”

 

[McGuire, heading towards his office bar again with some resolve]:

“Yeah, yeah, feathers will be ruffled. I’m just saying there won’t be legal avenues – that’s all. We’ll sort out better security too, of course we will. Yes, Tony, it’s something I’m going to have to deal with. Mind you, what about that Baha’i crowd? I’m very suspicious. They are up to something.”

 

[Tony]:

“Really? I can’t see them being much of a problem. Apparently, they don’t do violence, it’s against their religion. Yeah, no violence, no politics, no fun, lots of peace. Don’t think you’ll need an armoured vest when they organize their prayer sessions against you.”

 

[McGuire, handing another big glass of whiskey sour to Tony and smirking]:

“No this, that or the other eh? They’re the type to watch out for in my experience.”

 

[Tony, after a long suck]:

“But anyway, Mark, back to you. You know what I mean. How do you feel about what you saw in the scene?”

 

[McGuire, resigned to some vulnerability]:

“Yeah, as I said Tony, mixed. On one hand I feel a tremendous emotional relief. And, Tony, I mean BIG relief – an incredible, humungous release. On the other I feel like I’ve been sold a bill of goods by an even better manipulator than myself. Impressed but dirty… and very, very wary.

 

You see, now that I know nobody on our team was trying to put one over on me, I realize that the scene was very, very rewarding for me. I got closure. He said good-bye and he said he loved me. That was very important for me. Just what I needed. I’ve gone from hell to helium! Hey, you’re a great listener Tony, let me bore the pants off you.”

 

[Tony]:

“I’m there for you. Oh yes I am. But wait a moment. If I’m going to play therapist I’ll need to have immediate access to the beverage ingredients.”

 

Tony grabbed the bottle of whiskey, a decanter of lemon juice and a bowl of sugar. He placed them and himself at McGuire’s table. He served up another pair of whiskey sours.

 

[Tony]:

“There we go. We’ll be mellow. Mellooooooow. Life’s good. One for you Mr McGuire, one for me. We should do this more. Now, Mr McGuire, relate to me your reality, fellow.”

 

[McGuire]:

“Cheers Tony. Slancheh, or whatever my Celtic forebears would say.”

 

[Tony]:

“Budmo, buddy.”

 

[McGuire]:

“John was my older brother, ten years older. I looked up to him a lot. I idolized him actually. When I was very young I used to run into his bed at night and snuggle up. Taught me baseball, all that good stuff. When our father died in 2012 he left college and took control of the family building supplies business in Winona. He was only twenty one but, by a lot of very hard work, the business grew more and more successful. I guess our relationship changed somewhat but not massively. He’d always been sort of a father figure to me. Back then John was always really loving and protective to all of us. Yeah, there were six of us left, my mom and five kids. John was all into responsibility and duty. He sure was.

 

When I headed off to business school I only went back to Winona occasionally. I was young and away, free at last as they say. Those times I did go home I noticed how the mood was shifting. John was becoming more and more authoritarian. The family was starting to fear as well as love him and he seemed to want that. And Lord Jesus had suddenly become central. Of course, I’d ditched my Baptist upbringing by this time and he was… well he was frothing. It was uncomfortable being around him.

 

I started this company; he wasn’t happy. He reckoned I was a parasite. I remember one night, in a moment of inclusiveness, he asked me to discuss business strategy with him. Yeah, he knew I was doing well but the whole building supplies industry was experiencing a down-turn. At one point I said he needed to push sometimes; force his suppliers to compete for his orders; cut back employee numbers and benefits; completely fold loss areas.

 

He took it real personal. He wasn’t just a money making machine, he wasn’t a fly-by-night, he was an important part of the community and the community was important to him. You don’t mess with community. I don’t think we managed an ounce of communication that night. I was the greedy vulture taking easy pickings from the American People and he was the last vestige of righteousness defending them from me. Tony, there’s something catastrophic about being reprimanded and made to feel small by the person you love and respect the most. Especially when you know it’s based on pride, stubbornness and ignorance.

 

I blamed that church. I remember the day the Jerusalem Church of Jesus came over to sell him. I was at home for Thanksgiving. They did a tremendous job. I was in the presence of masters Tony. They massaged his ego and pressed every bit of pain in his body. They told him he was a pillar of the society; his gifts needed to be shared; they could use his strength at a time like this. The Muslims and the Hindus and the Chinese were overrunning Montgomery County and bringing their falsities with them. That Layla might look good, might seem good, but what else would you expect from the Anti-Christ and her new world order? And, if I can say it without barfing, what about the children and the world we’re bringing them up in?

 

Tony, John used to have a soft spot for Layla. She seems a very decent lady, he’d say. But they opened his eyes up to her deceit good and proper. Opened up his wallet too, hence the ‘inclusive’ chat with me three years later. Nothing I said made him even slightly waver in his support of that church. I thought “hey, they should get these guys to give sales lectures, they’re good”. Yeah, whether consciously or unconsciously, they were just like me, playing on fears and desires to get what they wanted.

 

I was so angry. I hated those church fuckers and how they controlled John and, by extension, my family. I had to give John some protection from these cunts whether he liked it or not. And I wanted to show them that I could play games too. And better than them. I rang up the head honcho at the church.

 

I thanked him for the blessings his church had brought to my family then asked to be able to be frank with him in complete confidence. So I said business was bad and John was very concerned about his company going south and the continuing tithing arrangement with it. He would never talk about this himself, you know, so that’s why this has to be between us and only us. At times like these, I said, Christians should stand in solidarity and trade, as much as possible, within their own. The old guy was great; within a week church members would only deal with tradesmen that bought from John. In fact they arranged a whole ‘buy by Jesus’ campaign to keep Christian money in Christian hands. And that was that. Kept John in the black. Best I could do in a hurry.

 

John mellowed a bit too. I went from evil vulture to flighty nightingale needing some loving direction. The old guy’s hand was in that for sure. John would say to me that Pastor Green would give me a job working for the church anytime and Pastor Green waited with outstretched arms ready to welcome me into their community. If I ever have kids Tony… you have two kids right? Yeah, well, teach your kids about me and Pastor Green. About how we harvest all their instincts good and bad. We do it for money but we’d do it for fun.

 

[Another round]

 

The last time I met John, we met half-way in a mall. A mall in the middle of mountains, surrounded by dirt and bushy green things. Now, when I say ‘met me half-way’, we’re talking distance not compromise okay. But I’d been looking forward to it. We hugged, we had coffee. I could see he was trying to be tender but over and over he would emphasize that he didn’t like my lifestyle, didn’t like what I’d become. I disputed his understanding of the world and things escalated. Right there and then, he pretty much disowned me ‘you are no brother of mine’. He stormed off. No good-byes. That swimming pool incident was about a year later.

 

I know I could have placated him if I had wanted to. I could have said I supported his religious views and that I’d make more of an effort to straighten myself out. He’d never know what I got up to in New York and I could do Jesus for the odd weekend in Winona. That’s what I’d do in business; I’d tell them what they wanted to hear. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to lie to John. I wanted an honest relationship and his unconditional acceptance. I accepted him… whatever his failings. Hmmm, I was wrong. I should have managed the relationship a lot better. I had the skill, he didn’t. Anyway, all this really messed my head up. Him saying those things in that scene has lifted a great burden. And Layla, well she was like me. She could see he was basically a very solid and wonderful person who’d been led astray. I’m rambling. I shouldn’t put you through all this Tony.”

 

[Tony]:

“You’re not rambling. You’re doing a fine job.”

 

[McGuire]:

“Yeah, so that scene… well, at the time of the incident I certainly couldn’t broadcast my relationship with the lead terrorist. It would have killed business. It was hard keeping it hidden in me though. But now… I think I have to stop grieving now.

 

[Tony]:

“That’s wonderful. Maybe this repository is a cure for all ills. But you said you felt something else… dirty?”

 

[McGuire]:

“That’s right. Dirty. And wary. And the kind of feeling I had for those fake church fuckers.

 

Yeah, after I had gratefully received my own personal miracle from God in answer to my deepest sorrow, I got another attack of realization.

 

Ohh no. Oh no. Hang on. That bitch. She’s just told me exactly what I wanted to hear. She’s sold me. I can’t believe it. I nearly fell for it.

 

And believe me Tony, she is looking for big-time payback. I’m sure of it. Like when I give someone what they want… I’m expecting at least a ten-fold recompense. I’ll let go of my emotional baggage but there’s no way I’m going to be in hock to her. No-one pulls a fast one on me.”

 

McGuire shook his head before burying his temples in his palms.

 

[Tony, pouring whiskey]:

“So you think she made it all up? I’m sure that’s not the case Mark.”

 

[McGuire]:

“It’s like a story one of my old professors used to tell:

A sad rock and a happy rock are out in the desert. The sun makes them brittle. A lizard basks on them, shelters under them, craps all over them and has relations with Mrs lizard when he’s up for it. How can the rocks bear it, this existence? Well, the sad rock whispers to the happy one that it must be great to be you. Must be great to be you. Must be great to be you. The happy rock whispers to the sad one that I will protect you. I will protect you. I will protect you. One day, the happy rock realizes its only purpose is to facilitate generations of lizards. He becomes sad. When the first sad rock again whispers ‘must be great to be you’ the newly sad rock tells him to fuck off. They don’t talk any more. Ever. The sadness and loneliness only increase over the millennia.”

 

[Tony, puzzling]:

“And the moral is?”

 

[McGuire, laughing]:

“Jeez, I don’t know. How about ‘both misery and bliss love company’. And they tell that company whatever it needs to keep it there because when it’s gone, it’s goooone. And, if possible, be a lizard.”

 

[Tony]:

“Hmmm, moral perhaps not the right word there. I think you need a top up Mark. And one for me. Lovely.”

 

[McGuire]:

“Well, the prof was always pissed as a newt when he told it. Heh, heh, a newt – that works. Maybe that’s what he was saying – be pissed, don’t try to make it under your own steam. Or maybe – be steamed, don’t try etcetera.

 

We’re doing okay here, aren’t we Tony? This sup is sublime.”

 

[Tony]:

“It’s hitting just the right spot.”

 

[McGuire]:

“Don’t get me wrong Tony. As regards our dear Layla, I’m a big fan. Always have been. Why? She’s cute, sassy, colourful, controversial and never boring. Marketing dream.

 

I kind of … well, I put the whole amazing feat things aside. Most of it was likely mass hypnosis. I was happy to hear the stories, happy to see her on the streams, I was even happy with the whole one world thing – at least it got rid of trade barriers. But none of her stuff was ever within my area of control or influence so I let it wash over like a good movie. I applauded it and went back to business.

 

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting to receive my own personal revelation. It jarred. It pressed my buttons. I got all mysticy-eyed and in awe and regretful. But, when I realized it’s probably just psychological manipulation, I came back with a bump. Man, she’s good, very good. She had me on the end of her line alright. But I’ve unhooked myself Tony. I’m not for brainwashing even by superhumans.”

 

[Tony]:

“So, are you dismissing it as an illusion?”

 

[McGuire]:

“Well, no. Not exactly. There might be some truth to it. I hope there is. I’m just not going to close my eyes and run blind for her.

 

Here’s the thing Tony. For all I know Pastor Green might be right about Layla. I know it sounds silly but what is there against it? She did some good deeds so she must be good right? Nope. She could have been gaining trust in readiness for a really big sting. There’s no answer to it, Tony. There’s no way to tell what’s good and bad. There’s just individuals, like me, negotiating the best deal possible in each transaction.

 

She used force to get her way, right? Is that all goody-two-shoes? Hey, what about all the people who died directly or indirectly at her hands? Would a good person do that? What about that Iranian thing? When all those people died just because she wanted her friend’s body back. That was monstrous. You or me, we’d be on death row but no-one could touch her. That’s justice? And exactly who does control the military now?

 

So no. Thanks for the soothing images Layla but you’ll have to do better than that for my loyalty.”

 

 

[Tony]:

“I think there’s another way to look at it Mark. She might need your help. This is her way of asking for it. I know you and I think she knows you too. You’re a game player. She’s not trying to scam you; she’s playing tit for tat. She’s given you what you want and she’s expecting you to reciprocate.”

 

[McGuire, pausing]:

“Tony, that’s brilliant. That makes perfect sense to me. I don’t have to understand all this, whether it’s right or wrong, miracle or illusion. I just have to know what game is being played and whether it will benefit me. I like that. I like that a lot. I’m not a mark… no, no, stop laughing Tony. I mean mark as in chump… patsy… sucker. No, I’m an equal agent that she has to cooperate with. That works. Lots of back scratchy scratchy.

 

Let’s see. The repository comes my way out of nowhere and then my deepest emotional need is magically satisfied. I tell you what Tony, it’s better than tit for tat. It’s two tits for a tat! Yep, that’s fits our Layla to a tee. To a tee tee.”

 

[Tony, giggling into his glass]:

“That’s so funny Mark. And so true. I can see them now. Yes, I can almost touch them. Of course, she might be a witch and then we’d even get three tits for a tat.”

 

Tony and Mark laughed loudly and heartily. This curtailed as they noticed the freeze-framed face of Layla on the stream screen.

 

[McGuire, superstitiously]:

“Well, maybe we should show more respect for our new partner. Come on; let’s polish off the remainder of this bottle. To Layla.”

 

[Tony]:

“To Layla.”

 

[McGuire, teetering]:

“Sanks Tony. You’ve been… you’ve been as good a friend as any man could hope for. I’m on an even keel again. After this one, I’m going to have an early week-end. Have to start negoshayting on Monday. Want to find out what my tat is though. I am a respossable pesson you know.

 

Get onto that Cimpton idiot. Tell him to have that lady, the one that I can truss – Janette, make up a digest of inressing Layla scenes. Not the public ones, the prive ones. Layla can tell me how she wants to be tatted. And, Tony, tell Janette to put the funny ones at the big… big inning. Don’t think I’ll be able for any seruss stuff today.

 

Final fing. Get a good medcul speshliss. Have em look at the scene. Show em Laylash tiredyness. Ax em if they can figure it out.”

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