Kojo sipped whiskey out of a mason jar and then stubbed out his cigarette in a small, tin peach can as the fan whirred about his head, fanning the air and a mechanical waspish whirring out into the cloister of the old, decaying motel. The inn straddled the intersection of The Tombs and the docks, near to Vandemburgh’s principal thoroughfare and the great bridge which let out of the city altogether. Afua was crying again. Head in her hands. Such behavior came and went in sudden spasms, like the ebb and flow of the lunar-tide. She sat now, bleary-eyed and muscle-tense, a bag of bones and sorrow, in the far left corner of the sparsely decorated living room. Kojo lit up another cigarette, ignoring the woman’s plight. He’d quite enough of it. Was tired of it.
“Adam… my little Adam.”
“Adam is gone. Your tears won’t reach him.”
“How can you be so cruel?”
“He was a cursed child.”
The woman shook her head. Though she agreed, she was loathe to admit it.
The television flicked as the news anchor read from the teleprompter, “Good evening, I’m Ted Braston with News Tonight. First, our special report, and I must warn you this report contains graphic images which you may find disturbing. A mysterious fire has engulfed the Johnson Tenements of Lowtown, sometimes known half mockingly as The Tombs, in the eastern district of the city of Vandemburgh. Two bodies were recovered from the smoldering remnants. One has been identified as Edward Joseph Brine, a member of the Counsel of Human Rights. The second, Catherine Reilly, a student of the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts. What was most bizarre was that both individuals were confirmed to have died before the fire. Reports from the scene state that Ms. Reilly died of burns from a propane operated steel-cutting device of high industrial grade. Brine’s cause of death was also due to this same device which was found at the scene. Both were found chained and bound, we will spare you the… truly horrifying details. The Vandemburgh police department have stated that the fire was caused by leaking gas from the stove which was turned on by a person or persons unknown. Upon the wall was carved the words: Fire finds the filth. Only one bystander, Liet Harkness, a independent journalist working out of Midtown, was there immediately after the explosion and saw a man walking away from the tenement, they exchanged words and then the man walked away. It is believed that this man was the one who caused the fire. A police sketch is currently being compiled and we will keep you updated as the story develops-”
The phone rang like a gunshot, drawing the man with the chrysanthemum jacket’s attention away from the TV screen. He reached over to pick up the phone on the table adjacent the bed upon which the watcher sat. Placing device to ear. A mechanically distorted voice issued forth.
“Reckless behavior. They’ll have your face, sooner or later. You know what this means. Go subtlety in future endeavors.”
Then a hissing; the line went dead.
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket nodded in affirmation of the order and then gingerly hung up the phone. After a moment of contemplation he shifted upon the bed, sitting bolt-straight, legs firmly braced to the floor and returned his attention back to the television screen where the news still played. The anchor had moved on to the next story.
“Well, there was a bit of a dust-up today at a art gallery of all places. For the past ten years, the Partridge art gallery has held an annual gala featuring the work of a hand-selected group of talented, up-and-coming artists from all around the city. The most recent gala debuted the work of three students from the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts but it wasn’t them or their work which caused the uproar. As many watchers will known, its election season and the two principal candidates for mayor are Angela Vikander, a democrat known for her environmentalism and pro-migration, open borders advocacy and Aiken Layne, a member of the republican party who some would call a paleoconservative, others a reactionary and others still, a out-and-out fascist. Both are controversial figures in their own right and both have personal scores to settle, as they’ve a long history of public disagreement. When both appeared at Lynder Partridge’s gallery a argument quickly erupted between the two prospective politicians. Some members of a grassroots political movement called, Citizens Against Fascism, otherwise known as CAF, then entered the building and a brawl quickly broke out. Reports from the scene stated that they had targeted the gala because they believed it housed what they called, ‘Fascist art.’ Our reporter from the event, Andrea Azikiwe, has more on the story.”
The screen split and a middle aged and dark skinned woman with dreadlocks and massive gold earrings appeared upon the screen adjacent the prim reporter. “Thanks for that Ted. I’m here at the Partridge Museum of the Arts with Brandon Chase, the son of steel magnate, Edmund Chase and one of the artists whose work was being exhibited during the brawl. So, Mr. Chase, can you explain what exactly happened here?” A tall, muscular blond man with a winning smile and bright, twinkling eyes and the clothes of a trust-funder sauntered into screen, the whole of his form forcibly amiable and open.
“Yeah. Well, I was just standing in before my exhibit, talking with some of the fine folks here at the gala, speaking about my work, my inspirations, art history, business and so on and so forth when Mr. Layne walked in, that is, Aiken Layne-”
“Your father, Edmund Chase, is friends with him as I understand.”
“Uh, sort of, honestly I’m not really sure. My father doesn’t really share a whole lot of his work with me, they’re familiar though, yeah. Did some business together and, because of that, I went over to say hello, before I could even reach him Angela Vikander came over and started arguing with Mr. Layne. Very nasty. And then, out of nowhere, a bunch of people, well I should just call them what they were, thugs, busted into the gala, all in black, red bandannas around their mouths, like half-masks. Some of them wore sunglasses too, I imagine to protect their identity. And they just started shouting and stomping around. I kinda thought they were drunk at first. Aiken called for security – they had apparently waited until the doorman went to use the restroom before entering – and so security came up and someone threw a punch. Honestly happened so fast I don’t know who struck first, the protesters or the guards, but a bit of a fight broke out and it kinda spilled over into the gallery patrons who you can see are still behind me over here and there. Absolutely crazy stuff. I mean, I understand that everyone is a little heated right now over this political race and some of the crime that has occurred and, ya know, other stuff, all that stuff, but everyone just needs to take a deep breath and calm down.”
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket looked on, unblinking, unmoved by the words and images upon the screen. He heard the words, processed them and began to wonder of the lives of the art patrons and the artists and the politicians and the protesters and the security guards who had repelled them. The grand wheel of their lives and the delicate weave that bound them all together seemed superbly laid out before him, in the endless sprawl of his mind’s eye. Floating. High above the city, far beyond his body where it sat upon the bed, so small and weak and susceptible to the vicissitudes of time. He imagined the soothing caress of the wind, the buffeting moisture of the wastrel clouds and the thunderclaps in the distance, clattering away like the war drums of some olden god, nameless and terrible. Down below the endless sky, the city prominent, glistening with muted radiance and seeping up out of the ground like some aberrant and mechanical mycelium. Rooftops vanished and the lives of nine million squirming souls were laid bare before him, as a ant-hill cleaved in twain. There they were, naked and clothed, lazing and productive, scheming and bequeathing, hurting and helping, lying and fucking. Killing. Killing. Killing. Nine million swelled to ten and from ten to twelve, twelve to twenty and on and on the city swelled until the limbs wild twisted up against glass panes and fences, forced by other bodies, eventually spilling out unto the street and ghettoizing. Money war, religious war, class war, ethnic war, race war, war for fun and for living space within what they were told what was already their own living space. More rarely, a war against lies. Even deeper than the surface strata was a hundred billion, billion different tunnels leading to a billion, billion worlds, all ever-shifting, turning, inverting, vanishing and re-emerging. Phonelines and wirelines and wireless trajectories of ascent and spread and interwebs within cybernetic systems that were as much a part of the hyper organism as the flesh and blood which had built them. The man thought that some foreign interstellar intelligence, if ever they had or would chance upon humankind, like as not, would view cities as a biologist might regard a coral reef, seeing only the surface structure and failing to grasp, upon first glance, those intricate and tiny begins which wormed within, sustaining it.
At length he broke from his reverie and stalked to the middle of the apartment floor and bent his body out in a straight-line, allowing himself to topple, face-fist, towards the floor, halting his fall with powerful arms before he struck the carpet. Two hundred push-ups later he showered in silence and contemplated the stillness of infinite space.