Chapter 8: Exile on Main Street (and other tapes)

Tales of The Plumber 7…

CDs just weren’t the same. Fucking Compact Discs. Where was the charm? Sure, they might sound better, but… Kodek shook his head. No use mulling over the things you couldn’t change, he supposed. But he knew somewhere there was a tape deck with his name on it. He’d have to keep his eyes open.

He sped along in his car listening to his The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street on CD. “Get your rocks off, get your rocks off, baby…”

At least he was finding that he didn’t miss the chainsaw he used to keep in the trunk of his car. But then again, not missing the chainsaw might be inadvertently adding to his melancholic reaction to his recently junked tape deck that he’d had retro-fitted in his car. Who knew? He was a little sore about the fact that he had a glovebox filled with cassette tapes that he wasn’t able to currently play. Some classic Madonna, Joan Jett, Tom Waits’ Swordfish Trombones, The Ramones’ End of the Century, Appetite for Destruction, all sorts of shit. He would’ve had MJ’s Thriller, as well, but the damned tape deck ate it. He did replace that on on CD, though, along with the Rolling Stones record he was currently rocking to and a Janis Joplin classic that he’d picked up more for Crumb’s artwork that the tracks on the CD. Although he did like Joplin, when he was in the mood. Was he in the mood now, he wondered? Nah, too much trouble to swap out the CD, he decided.

When he’d been shopping for his handful of CDs, the guy at the record store told him that at least CDs lasted forever. As opposed to tape cassettes, he explained. Kodek had gone home with his little plastic bag of CDs and had immediately gone on the internet, where he discovered that CDs did in fact not last forever, that all of the digital information stored on them did eventually break down. Digital Rot, it was called. At least that’s what he thought it was called. He found that notion inexplicably depressing. That was something he was obviously going to have to come to terms with, lest it started affecting his job.

I’m affected.

He popped out the CD after all and reached into the glovebox for The Ramones’ End of the Century. It was still a cassette tape, he’d forgotten. Damn it. The Ramones had always cheered him up. Instead of putting The Stones back into the CD player, he turned it off and drove in silence for a while, rolling down his window to get a little of the air whipping along the left side of his face. Felt good.

It had been weeks since the hit/job that he’d come to refer to as The Chainsaw Incident, which was the same hit/job where he’d decided that his boss’ passion for convoluted games had completely dissipated, which left Kodek… well, which left him holding a chainsaw cutting Johnny Fingers into little pieces. Funny thing, Johnny Fingers, he didn’t play any musical instrument so Kodek had simply assumed that he’d been named for something like his adept love-making. Turned out, old Johnny was just a big fan of that old Harvey Keitel film “Fingers”. Go figure. Maybe Kodek should change his name to Blade Runner. He liked the sound of that. He kind of thought he was like Harrison Ford. Only the bad, dark version of him. Like Bizarro Ford. The anti-Blade Runner. Sounds sharp. Only the thing that nagged at Kodek was that he knew that the original book that title had come from, something written by a heroin-addicted William S. Burroughs, was actually about a bunch of punks who were into transporting harvested organs. That’s not what Kodek was about, that was for sure. Although…

Something panged at the back of his mind, like a flash of memory/deja-vu, then evaporated like a gob of spit in the Arizona desert.

He thought about the neat stack of discarded organs he’d piled up in front of Johnny as Johnny half-consciously watched in horror. Johnny Fingers’ own organs… his own fingers, too… chainsawed into some unrecognizable pulp and removed from his insides to the coffee shop floor, slopped right at the base of the stool he’d just been sitting in enjoying his bacon and fried egg breakfast mere moments before. There was something there, and Kodek was musing about it. Some missed opportunity.

He wondered if he could’ve saved those organs.

Well, so what if he could’ve saved them? This wasn’t a William S. Burroughs novel. Fuck, it wasn’t even Naked Lunch. Where the fuck was he going to sell stolen organs? No, that was a bad idea. Messy, too. Four second flat, and Kodek had already talked himself out of going into business for himself. Was he destined to work for The Man forever?

Speaking of The Man… Kodek was still awaiting orders for his next hit. He had no chainsaw now, so presumable this round wouldn’t be quite as spectacularly messy. Fuck, that last one had been a job and a half., He smiled to himself when he remembered the looks on their face as he entered the coffee shop dressed in a HazMat suit and a chainsaw in his hand. Priceless. You had to have a sense of humour about this shit or it would really start to get to you.

His car phone rang. Kodek picked it up.

Hello?”

Kodak – we have to talk.”

Deja-fucking-vu. Sometimes it felt to Kodek like his entire life was one big Deja-vu. Maybe that had something to do with the fact he’d starting reading up on Buddhism. Then again, maybe not.

What about?” he asked into the phone.

Do you believe in time-travel?” Larry the Brain asked him.

What the fuck? Kodek cleared his throat. “What the hell are you talking about, Brain?”

Time-travel. What do you think?”

Brain, I’m driving right now. Can’t this wait? I can call you when I get to the hotel-”

Look, it’s fine. I was just in the middle of something and wanted to know your thoughts on the subject.”

What subject? It’s fiction.”

So you don’t believe in it.”

I never said that.”

So you do.”

Didn’t say that, either,” Kodek was starting to grumble now. “I just said it was fiction. It is fiction.”

So, what do you think,” Brain asked again, sounding slightly exasperated even to Kodek.

Why are you asking me this? What the fuck are you up to?”

Writing.”

Writing?”

That’s what I said, maniac.”

Don’t call me that. I told you already-”

Okay, sorry, “ Brain said, not wanting to piss him off. Not right yet, anyway. “I forgot. Force of habit.”

Kodek knew Brain was lying. “What are you writing?

Science fiction.”

Another lie? Kodek wasn’t even sure. Maybe he’d play along and see where this went. “I don’t believe in time. I think we only have our perception and someone, at some point, called it time.”

Hmmm…. That’s interesting,” Brain said, and hung up.

Well, that didn’t go very far. Kodek knew Larry the Brain hadn’t really wanted to talk to him anyway. He knew the type. Thinkers, writers, he probably got himself all excited about some kind of sci-fi concept and wanted to bat a few words around with someone. Hell, that was understandable. Kodek was busy meditating on a few things himself lately. More than a few. He was wandering through this world in a haze of almost-zen, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to figure things out. Or be comfortable with the fact that there was no figuring things out. He wasn’t sure, he wasn’t there yet.

And suddenly, the back window on his drivers side smashed in, shattering. He swerved, then steered the car off the country road. The silence settled in.

What the fuck was that?!

He waited, but there was no other crash.

What are the odds of seeing three films in a row featuring a shot of an owl? Three films. And not one of the Blade Runner? Let’s see… It was Blow Out, an old Italian horror flick called The Church, and 12 Monkeys. Owls, in all three of them. What are the fucking odds?

Blow Out.

He turned and looked in the backseat of his car. Shattered glass all over the seats. He unclipped his seatbelt and twisted over the top/back of the front seats, looking, searching…

There.

A hole in the opposite door, on the passenger side. Bullet hole. Kodek looked through the window and across the country road. In the direction the bullet had to have come from, there was only an open country field. Open as far as the eye could see. Kodek held his breath. Dead quiet.

He got a chill.

After a few long seconds, he let his breath out and opened the drivers door, took his keys with him and went around the back of the car. He opened the trunk and removed his high-velocity rifle. Strapping it over his shoulder, he slammed the trunk and hiked across the road and into the open field. His eyes darting left and right, even up and around. A couple of times, he even glanced back at his own car. The second time he did that, he was actually surprised at how small it had become in his visual perception. He wondered how long he had actually been walking. Time. Funny thing. It went by so fast. He went on hiking. He thought about the owl. He searched around the field and it was futile, there wasn’t even a bush that a sniper could’ve been hiding behind. There was… nothing… And yet when he ran out of options along the field, he looked up to the sky for some inexplicable reason. He was pretty damn sure there wasn’t going to be anything up there…

Helicopter?

Doubtful. He hadn’t heard one. Of course, he might’ve been busy listening to the gunshot shattering the back window of his car. No, if there had been something up there he surely would have– suddenly, a flash a white fur caught his eye. He turned it time to see the rabbit ripping across the grassy field. He wondered if he should follow it, like Alice in Wonderland. Look where that got her. Then he remembered that other character who had followed a rabbit into a hole – Cujo. And look what that poor Saint Bernard got for his troubles. Still, a rabbit hole would explain a lot… Or maybe a foxhole. Kodek turned his attention to the grass floor and rubbed his shoe along. He lifted his head to the wind, which had just picked up. He scanned the grass again, this time even closer, with more focus. He saw the rabbit stop at a spot several yards in the distance, become disinterested and hop off once again. Of course, this got Kodek extremely interested. He tried to keep a bead on the patch where the rabbit had stopped to explore and marched towards it. It only took him a couple of minutes, and when he got there he stared down into the foxhole in utter disbelief.

The guy was filthy. Whoever it was hunkered down in that man-dug foxhole, he’d been there for quite some time. His military fatigues were completely infused with earth and grass stains, and the smell wafting up from the open trench was somewhat ripe. The log-bearded dirty fella in the hole looked up to Kodek and said, “Heya, stranger.”

Kodek cocked an eyebrow. “You shot my car.”

Ayuh, I reckon I did.”

Well, I reckon it was me you were trying to shoot,” Kodek was staring down at the rifle leaning up against the dirt wall of the trench. It was only a couple of feet from this bearded soldier and he could easily grab it.

Ah, nope, you got me wrong there, mister,” he said to Kodek.

Make that ex-soldier, Kodek thought. If he was still in the military, he likely would’ve addressed a civilian as sir, not mister. “But you did shoot my car,” Kodek said.

Ayuh, and I reckon I already copped to that.”

Well, what the hell did you do that for?!”

Get your attention.”

What in God’s name for?”

Company, I reckon.”

Company.”

Ayuh…” The soldier looked around his foxhole, as if he were trying to figure if he even had enough room to entertain company at the end of all this. There was plenty of room for one more, and a couple of duffel bags that could be used to sit on, provided they were only filled with clothes and bedding, and not guns, ammunition and hand grenades.

Can you sit on those?” Kodek pointed to the duffel bags. Soldier gave the one closest to him a kick, a cloud of dust and old dirt mushroom-clouded up from it. But it looked like clothes, not heavy artillery, at least.

Alright, I’m coming down.” Kodek turned, got on his knees, put his hands on the edges of the foxhole and lowered himself down. His right foot landed on one of the duffels, and now he was sure it was just clothing of some sort. The soldier didn’t smell insanely bad, Kodek had smelled worse one summer on a public bus in Philly. But that was some other story.

What’s in the bags?”

Feathers.”

Kodek cocked his eyebrow again, he couldn’t help it. He watched as the soldier unzipped the one closest to him and pulled up the corner of a pillow.

See?”

So you just use the duffel bags to sit on?”

Yeah, and sometime I fall asleep on ’em, if I’m tired.”

Kodek looked around the foxhole. There were old, old animal bones scattered all around. Beside the leaning sniper’s rifle, a spare box of ammunition and five hunting knives, that Kodek could see. “You, uh, live here, then…”

Yup.” Soldier yanked the canteen from his belt and offered it to Kodek. “Thirsty?”

Is it water?”

Well, what else would it be?”

Kodek shrugged, but it smelled slightly of piss to him. Of course, that might’ve been anything in the foxhole. “No thanks,” he said politely, and then his eye caught a bottle of something else in a dark corner of the trench. “That what I think it is?”

Ayuh.”

Kodek reached over and grabbed the half-finished bottle, the brown liquid sloshing up the glass neck between his fingers and he plopped on the second duffel.

Ow.”

Yeah, that one’s got a pillow as well as a couple of hand grenades.”

Thanks for the warning.” Kodek unstrapped his own rifle and leaned it up beside the soldier’s. He stretched his legs out as far as they would go, which wasn’t far along the width of the trench, he knees were still bent up while his back was again one side of the trench and the flat of his feet propped against the other. He used his thumb to spin the cap off the bottle one-handed, then took a healthy swig. He figured if there was anywhere in the foxhole that was likely not contaminated with old piss, it would be the bottle of Jack.

He was right.

Hey,” Soldier called out, “Who the hell said you could have any of that?”

Shut up and sit down. You shot my fucking window. You wanted company, I’m here.”

Yeah, yeah, alright…” The soldier dropped his ass on the other duffel bag. “Oof. Oh yeah, good to take a load off.”

Kodek checked out the soldier’s boots. They were worn right out, but still held together well. Good leather.

So, you get company dropping by here often?”

To Kodek’s surprise, the soldier replied, “Sometimes.”

He took a sip and handed the bottle off. “Like who?”

The soldier took a long sip, swished it in his mouth before swallowing, and handed the bottle back to Kodek. “All sorts.”

Like who?”

Like you.”

Kodek grinned, took another sip and handed the bottle over. “Yeah, besides me.”

Soldier sipped and shrugged. “All sorts. You’d be surprised. Had a priest share some wine with me down here once. He’d been carrying it around since his Sunday service, I think he was just looking for a quiet place to get drunk by himself. ‘Course, he never said so, one way or the other… then there was this private school girl, she must’ve been about sixteen. Or maybe fifteen-”

Kodek’s eyebrow cocked again, all by itself.

Aw, it was nothing like that. She found me hunting around up top. Got me a coyote. I cut it and drained it and brought it back here to skin, and she’d been out this way with some boyfriend of hers who’d wanted a little fuck and a b.j., and she said no, and he took off on his motorcycle and left her her. Kind of a dirtbag, if you ask me. Anyway, I invited her down, and she ate the coyote with me. Raw, too. We tore the meat right off the bone. I almost never have fires around here. Almost never. Attract too much attention. Or they would, if I had ’em.” he gave the bottle back to Kodek, who took a large sip, leaving only about a fifth of the bottle. “And after the coyote, we had a little fuck, but that was it.”

Kodek nearly spit his whiskey out. Instead, he swallowed it. “That a fact?”

There was another soldier, one time. At least, he said he was a soldier. I think he might’ve been one of these survivalist guys…”

The soldier went on telling his tales while it occurred to Kodek that this soldier himself might merely be one of these fanatical right-wing survivalists. Upon further musing, Kodek began to wonder about the possibility that this guy sitting beside him was the survivalist – the one form the story.

The Survivalist still had the rifle in his hand when he stepped up behind his barking rottweiler, who had his nose over the edge of the foxhole. When The Survivalist peered down into the hole, he saw the soldier down there sleeping on his duffel bags. Or he had been sleeping, anyway, until the fucking rottweiler started barking his head off. Now this soldier was reaching into the one of the duffels, the one closest to his head, his hand creeping inside the zipper… and The Survivalist was not about to waste another second, he pulled the bolt back on his rifle, aimed it at the soldier’s head and-

Kodek noticed the bones in the far corner. Old. Bigger. Bigger than any coyote’s. “You got a dog?”

Kodek had just interrupted this soldier in the middle of his ongoing story. And on top of that, Kodek had absently finished the bottle of Jack. This was surely not going to score any points with this psycho beside him. Kodek’s eyes went to his rifle. And not without notice. Kodek cocked his head, trying to listen for the sounds of any other creature outside the foxhole. There was nothing. Well, maybe he’d imagined the Rottweiler, after all. But he certainly wasn’t imagining this soldier’s hand reaching slyly into the duffel back under his ass. Kodek could feel the grenade under his own ass and could only imagine what might be in the other duffel bag besides the pillow the soldier had shown him. Good thing Kodek was fast, and he knew he already had a bullet in the chamber of his high-velocity rifle as his hand darted out for it, but the soldier already had his hand out of bag. “You got one of these?” he asked Kodek seriously.

Kodek’s jaw dropped into his lap. The solder was holding out to him, offering him, some ratty old banged-up portable tape player. A little stereo, about a foot and a half long. A fucking tape deck!

I used to use it,” the soldier said, “but I only have one tape. Micheal Jackson’s Thriller. Listened to it five hundred times, I’m kind of sick of it now. There’s no radio on it, so… if you want it, it’s yours.”

Kodek hit PLAY. “Billie Jean – is – not my lover…She’s just a girl – who…”

Would you mind turning that off please?”

Oh, yeah, sure,” Kodek hit STOP.

Thanks,” the soldier chuckled to himself. “That tape kind of drives me a little batty now. It’s the only one I had.”

Yeah, so you said.” Kodek wondered how the hell the batteries were still good if this soldier had, in fact, listened to Thriller five hundred times. How long had it been…? “Do you ever leave this foxhole?” Kodek asked him.

But the soldier already had the .45 out from the duffel bag and he was pulling the trigger.

How the fuck did I let this guy distract me–?

He pulled it! He pulled the trigger! I’m fucking DEAD – Kodek wasn’t sure what had happened, but no bullet was discharged from that .45, and that’s all he needed to know, the last he saw of the soldier was the look of utter confusion on his face as Kodek whipped the rifle around, cracking the guy across the face, teeth and cheek cracking and blood splattering across the fat wall of the trench, the very wall they’d both been leaning against only a second before.

To make sure he wouldn’t be followed (or killed) Kodek had zap-strapped the solder’s hands behind his back and had left him face-down in the dirt and old bones on the floor of the trench. He marched quickly back to his car, his blood-spattered rifle slung over his shoulder and his new tape deck hanging from his left hand.

The rifle went back in the trunk, Kodek slammed the car door shut, revved the engine and took off with the tape stereo on the passenger seat. The back tire of the car ran over the Thriller tape and cracked it into the concrete.

Driving along, Kodek put his Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits cassette tape into the stereo, and turned the volume up loud.

Come together… right now…”

Indeed, everything was finally coming together. Kodek sped through the crossroad and his car was smashed in on the passenger side, his airbags deploying and his car spinning back off the road, and the thing that wen through Kodek’s mind was, You’ve gotta be fucking kidding with me!”

…over me…!”

The car smashed into a tree and fire erupted under the engine. Kodek tried to free himself, but the door like it was welded shut.

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