Excerpt from Divine Play, pp. 419-424
Stumbling across the tufted stony soil, shunting escarpments, Vic tracked the sphere to a clearing outside a cave, where it rested on reddish purple stone. The clearing was circumscribed by a meter-high wall of dirt, rocks, and roots. Though this was likely the site of an attack, it brought a few moments of relief from hours of superfluous flogging. He passed the stick over the sphere, but it did not respond. “So be it,” he said, sighing, and flung the stick away.
An onrush of chatter heralded the five people ambling out of the cave into the clearing, stationing themselves around him at the cardinal points.
East (right) was a chubby grizzled fellow dressed in stained white cotton peasant garb, faded striped serape, and sombrero. He was yipping and howling and ululating strident el gritos.
West was a slender wiry sort, whose black hair was sleekly oiled and drawn into a queue. He was bedecked in a tight-fitting, satiny, rose-colored suit with golden embroidery―something less than the traditional traje deluces(“suit of lights”) of a matador de toros. He was executing passes with a yellow cloth draped over a stick—it should have been red—and grunting in defiant syllables: “Hah!’ “Huh!” “Yuh!”
South (behind him) was a manifest el generalein blue uniform with epaulets and gold buttons, his swarthy face succumbing to flaccidity. Black bristles formed his eyebrows and tripartite mustache and beard. He was silent, expressing only a contemptuous regard for Vic with his dark, bloodshot eyes.
And to the north, two guarded the maw of the cave. An unshaven individual with gray-streaked rumpled hair, opaque sunglasses, and black, short-sleeved shirt, adorned with appliqué of yellow parakeets, was haranguing Vic with lip-chirping kisses, street-corner solicitations, and falsetto mockery:
The diva beside him displayed profuse black locks and thickly mascaraed mahogany eyes. Her antithetically lean and bosomy body and long muscular legs flourished in scintillant golden gown with declining neckline and ascendant hemline…[S]he began emanating musical accompaniment: an overdubbed female voice (hers, presumably) amid brass and electric guitars, the beat of conga and snare and bass, the insidious marimba and maracas, mixing salsa, samba, mestizo, Tejano, mariachi, bossa nova, rock, and fusion:
I’m a bitch, I’m a queen, I’m a slut, I’m a goddess.
Tight leather pants and a see-through bodice.
Smart and cute but not very modest.
Come to me, boy, por mis crueldades.
“Oh my,” said Vic, removing his goggles and wiping the sweat from his eyes, “am I late for the Hispanic Heritage Festival?”
The peasant smiled, showed yellow teeth, and narrowed his eyes. “¿Qué?
“¿De qué se trata?”Vic wondered what the “deal” was.
“¿De qué está hablando?” the matador asked confusedly.
“I’m talking about you.” He moved his right hand, palm down, in a semicircle. “Los trajes, el toque de trompetas.” He fluttered his fingers derisively. “Ustedes parecen caricaturas.” The stereotypes were, after all, a bit hyperbolic, even for SPORT.
“No hago nunca. ¿Nunca!”exclaimed the general, in regal denial.
“Proba el SPORT poner en ridulo a esté, ¿no?”Vic asked.
“Proba el SPORT poner en cadaver a te,”replied the diva, correcting him: SPORT was trying to make, not a fool, but a corpse of him.
“¿En qué podemos servirle?”asked the peasant, in the manner of a clerk in a clothing store.
“¿Qué coñoquieres?”asked the drug lord, more straightforwardly asking what the hell he wanted.
He turned to the diva and smiled. “Qué chula eres.”
“Chula?” she repeated, frowning. “Not hermosa?” She inhaled sharply and held the back of her right hand to her forehead. “¡Aii, por qué memaltratas tan brutalmente!” The others chuckled.
“Hees jus’ trying to be nice!” interposed the matador in a high-pitched, effeminate voice. “What hees trying to say ees, ‘qué eres guapa . . . vamos, noeres fea.’”
Handsome . . . well, not ugly.They laughed at the inartful flattery. To the diva, he said softly, his glance grazing her body, “Me decid un secreto. Cuéntame los chismes.”He was coaxing her for the secret, the “dirt.”
“¿Dequé usted hablando?” asked the general, obtuse by design or otherwise.
“Quiero saber como podeo huir desde aqui.” He might as well be blatant about the desire to escape.
“¡Dios me libre!” the peasant cried out.
The general cleared his throat. “Temoque es impoble.”
“¡Pues, qué te jodas!” said the drug lord, denying his request with a recommendation for self-buggery.
“I theenk, mebbee,” remarked the peasant, “qué el busca problemas.”
“Yais, I theenk I yam esking for trobble,” Vic agreed.
“Anyway,” said the diva, “no sabemos ni papa de ningún pasillo secreto.” They didn’t know anything about any secret passage.
“Of course, you don’t know na-thing about na-thing, sweet thing!” Vic affirmed buoyantly.
The drug lord smiled, a slight retraction of lips from white synthoteeth and raw, swollen gums. “Un paso secreto no ayudará a un hombre muerto.”A secret passage won’t help a dead man.
“A que,”Vic answered, sighing.
The guardians set to work at once.
The diva drew from behind her neck a long metallic lance that could not possibly have been stored along her back unnoticed in that dress. The drug lord unbuttoned his shirt to exhibit a black vest, a membrane of Mylar, apportioned in myriad vertical pockets like sheaths for the array of blunt, slender pulse-dermics displaying bright blue and red and yellow and translucent toxins. To Vic’s left, the matador unfurled a bundle of flexible bandilleras festooned with ribbons, emitting red threads of lasers from their points. To Vic’s right, the peasant brandished a thick baseball bat, so white it appeared to be of balsa wood. From its blunt tip splayed carousels of pocket-sized torpedoes.
Behind Vic, the general had unfastened his tunic, disclosing a gun belt from which several holsters dangled, bearing a .45, a .38, and various micronized artillery.
These revelations were an enterprise of moments, so the pause that followed seemed interminable. The guardians looked at Vic. Abruptly Vic began to sing, lifting his arms and slightly swaying his hips:
Esperando, suspirando, deseando . . .
¿Porqué tengo que esperar siempre
De oportunidad que te adore?
The incongruity of the singing and the mawkishness of the song inspired various tones and frequencies of mirth among the guardians. A calm settled, composed of glittering particles of sand, a transient sense of lightening, a promise that the confrontation was past. But Vic had emptied his pouch of miniaturized objects and slipped them between the fingers of his left hand. Still chuckling, he made a left fist and plucked a tiny weapon from the interval of his pinkie and ring finger and flung it at the drug lord’s feet.
Gray acrid smoke billowed clockwise, enveloping the guardians. But they brought forth small cylindric fans that potently blew away the smoke.
“Hmmph,” Vic uttered contemplatively, dropping another weapon that bloomed into a transparent bubble around him. The group fetched little egg-shaped drills. The long drill bits served to penetrate the bubble, raise it overhead, and cast it over the top of the cave’s alpine husk.
Vic tossed up the next, which unfurled a claw with a steel chain tail. He spun the claw above his head. They had silver tubes that lengthened and converged like tipi poles, entangling the chain.
After that, it was curiosity, mainly, that induced Vic to expend each artifice between his fingers, as if he were a child at the zoo feeding a chimpanzee, one chocolate at a time. He presented a cluster of minute mechano-samurai that scurried across the ground to spear, stab, and hack the feet of the evildoers. The guardians’ shoes sprayed jets of superheated air that melted them. He held aloft a pair of spinning nozzles spraying a blinding chemical. His opponents touched their foreheads, and face masks appeared. He summoned huge circular saw blades, a cyclone, a hyper-reflective invisibility suit, a (malign) laser light show, flocks of hammers, bundles of thorny sinuous vines, random airborne tables and chairs, an uncoiling metric ton of rubber padding, a tidal wave of blood, (mechanized) frogs, lice, flies, cattle (these the matador killed single-handedly), lesion-inducing powder, hailstones, locusts, and gusts of fire and ice. Nothing remained but a blue dot. He pressed it onto his forehead, like the urna of renunciation. Thereafter, the skirmish proceeded as follows:
THE DIVA reaches out for Vic with her lance and sidesteps right as
THE DRUG LORD
flips syringes at chest-level so Vic does a backwards roll to squat position as THE GENERAL’s bullets snipe overhead while Vic notes peripherally
holding out his baseball bat (smile of humble offering onhis cherubic face) and two torpedoes are daintily launched from the carousels andVic is cartwheeling left (plotting to use THE MATADOR as a shield) and inasmuch as simultaneous concussive chumps erupt beside him and fragments pierce his right cheek like insect bites (a numb invasion starting) and noiseless chucks of syringes cause throbbing jackhammers in his left thigh, the cartwheel gets refined into a handspring touching down into crouching stance so he can remove fragments from multiple bloodflows and still rise to block with palm-strikes the bandilleras flung by the Matador (with nimble wrist and minute mincing backstep) but the chaw of bullets into his back spins him into the Diva’s lance, thrust laterally, UUUAHHUU! NOTALANCEBUTACATTLEPROD! Jolted backwards from curses of an angry god paralyzing muscle and bowel, he is infuriated by the pestering prod, descending with him, and sweeps her legs with his left (stick or plank, formerly leg) and she topples. He rolls across blood-smeared stone, meanwhile being shot pierced prodded. His right forearm now bends in the middle…
Now he was filled, fulfilled; something grew within to the limits of his skin. He was rigid, so weary, weighted a thousandfold, as if all of his selves from birth to now aligned within him. Lying faceup, he saw the upper rim of the cave at the bottom center of his cylinder of vision, and above it a brief white vapor trail against the sky, like an errant mark on a chalkboard. At the left and right ends of the cylinder were motions, shadows, the pounding perforation of bullets, prods, syringes, bandillerasinto his body. No. Agitations merely, outside his dreams. He was lifted up at the waist by nonsynchronous forces, explosions. Ascendant; he had been offered. But the spirits faltered; he was misgiven, sunken. Still, he was whole. Could he be shattered but not fragmented? Oh, blessed be the resolute ligatures. He could not be shared like the Holy Host.
The guardians were gathered like hunters to prey. The diva’s face appeared over the rim of the well. He noted the aquiline nose, the silken hair―a shadow encircled her upper lip. With her swarthy skin tone, she’ll be susceptible to mustaches.
The drug lord pointed a .45 at his head. Of course, they need to be certain. He was contemplating certitude when the gun went off.