Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself, I'm a Man of Wealth & Taste - Xavier Lipshitz





Dr. Strangeshitz


It was a sulky October morning in the Baldoyle Industrial Estate, eleven kilometers north east of Dublin City Centre. The offices of Oldham Hershel Systems seemed to crouch behind its landscaped shrubbery. A four story building seeking to be forty.

As I logged on to my PC, I heard footsteps come to a stop on the other side of my cube. An arm reached over the head-high wall, holding a FedEx package.

“What’s this?” I said, taking the package.

No reply. The footsteps trailed into the silence of the office.

I opened the package, which contained a pager, one thousand euros, and a note: “When the beeper sounds, go to the front doors. Talk to no one, ask no questions, get in the waiting car.”

“What the hell?” I muttered, looking over the FedEx envelope: my name typewritten on front; no return address.

I counted the money again. Although my immediate debts would eat up half of the cash, receiving a lump of money from an unknown source made me uneasy. And when would the pager go off—?

The pager beeped. I suddenly felt like Neo in The Matrix, with the men in black suits filing through the office toward his cube.

Keep the money, I thought. Fuck the pager.

And wait for footsteps to surround my cube? Be accused of stealing?

Stealing what? I thought. The money came to me.

The beeper went silent.

Looking at my Outlook calendar on the PC, my day was filled with meetings and teleconferences; one blackhole after another. What could it hurt to see if there was anyone waiting at the entrance for me. I rose from my chair and shoved the beeper in one pocket, the money in the other. Waiting car, I thought, walking to the elevator. Who the hell will be waiting in the “waiting car”?

I moved to Dublin from Canada last year. As a writer, my hometown couldn’t sustain me. The best I could hope for was writing menus or scavenging along the shore of the Detroit River. Neither would keep me in beer or CDs. However, Dublin was no oasis. My dream of being a novelist dissipated before I finished the first chapter of my book—the reality of living in a dingy bedsit and having no money sapped my inspiration. My plans for being a teacher fell through one month and one hundred resumes later. After two months on the Dole, I landed a job with Oldham Herschel Systems just after its merger with Hechter Information Technologists. Technical writing—the devil’s snare for writers.

~

The elevator doors opened on the lobby.

Not for a moment did I think there would be a car outside—

—a green Mercury sat idling in the drizzle beyond the front doors.

~

I don’t know what tipped me toward getting into the green Merc: boredom, the money, curiosity. I stepped outside—the Merc’s rear door opened. The interior of the car smelled of tobacco and acrid men’s cologne, like rancid soap. An unsmiling mustached man, wearing a tweed overcoat, sat in the backseat. He regarded me with onyx eyes, emotionless as blank TV screens.

“Uh, hi,” I said, wondering if I should introduce myself. “What’s going—?”

“No questions,” he grunted in an accent I couldn’t place.

~

Before long, we were on the freeway passing signs for Dublin Airport. My curiosity and wariness fused into a choking lash of claustrophobia. “Fuck the instructions!” I spluttered. “Where are we going?”

“Someone wishes to meet you.”

“Who?”

No reply.

We turned in to Dublin Airport, sped past the terminal and came to a manned gate. A guard looked over the car, then raised the traffic arm. A moment later, we were cruising along the tarmac where planes taxied.

“I don’t have my passport,” I said. “I’m not flying anywhere.”

The man said nothing.

We continued to the far end corner of the tarmac, where a magenta jet sat.

“On the plane,” the man said, “your questions will be answered.”

~

Stepping out of the car, I wondered how far I would get if I sprinted for the airport terminal. It’s not like I’m under arrest, I thought. Then I felt the wad of cash in my pocket. That complicated matters. The man in tweed came round the car, and led me up to the jet’s entrance. As I stepped in, he remained outside.

My vision slowly adjusted to the jet’s dim interior. First thing I noticed was the damp, dank earthen odor. During college, I knew a few “home horticulturalists”: indoor pot growers. Their house smelled like this.

The jet was lushly decorated: parquet floor, leather easychairs, playpen sofa, big screen TV, expansive mahogany bar; walls filled with art. How does it survive turbulence? I wondered.

My thoughts vanished as a gorgeous, lanky blonde approached, wearing a red Lycra® bodysuit. She smiled. “My name is Contanya,” she said. “Would you like a drink?”

My voice seemed a long time in coming: “Uh, coffee?”

Contanya cocked her head. “How boring,” she pouted. “Won’t you have something... more creative?”

“What do you have?” I stammered.

She pinned me with her lightning rod gaze. “Anything.” My forehead prickled with perspiration. Contanya swept over to the bar. My eyes ransacked her Lycra®-clad form. A moment later, she handed me a silver goblet containing glowing green liquid: smelled like flowers, tasted like licorice.

“Absinthe,” she purred. “You will meet the master now?”

The drink traced a warm trail down my throat. “I guess.”

~

She led me into an area that was part casino/nightclub, part multimedia laboratory, part life-support pod. A large disco ball hung from the ceiling. To the left was a wall of monitors, a desk cluttered with laptop computers, PC towers, keyboards, routers, cables, microphones, and webcams. There was a wide wooden bar, leather easychairs, and casino tables: craps, poker, baccarat. Toward the rear was a startling array of medical equipment. There was the smell of piss and burnt hair in the air.

Amid the medical equipment was a drawn white curtain with three silhouettes cast against it: two long women—voluptuous; doubtless wearing bodysuits like Contanya’s—and a seated, hunched lump of humanity. One woman prepared a hypodermic needle. Leaning forward, her shadow melded with the patient’s. Then came an exhalation—“Aaaahhhhhh”—like the wheeze of a bear, the grunt of a yak, mixed with the nasally wordless antipathy of a New York City taxi driver; the voice of Moses if he still walked the earth—five thousand years amid desert dust, eating locusts and cacti, drinking urine.

The curtain swept back.

Under normal circumstances, my attention would not have wavered from the caramel-skinned lovelies in red Lycra.® I glimpsed them, but my attention fell like an anvil on the figure in an electric wheelchair whirring toward me. The sexless aged figure had an elaborate black coif, and wore mirrored aviator sunglasses. Only by the look of the three stunning women in the room did I guess this figure had once been a man. He wore white coveralls—pristine; accentuating his jaundiced flesh. His hands were claws. An awful pink tongue probed his wet lips.

“Mr. Matthew St. Amand,” the man said, and chuckled: an obscene, phlegmy, stomach-turning sound. “I am Xavier Lipshitz.”

~

Contanya led me like a catatonic to an easychair. She refilled my goblet with absinthe. Felt as though my head was opening like a BMW convertible top.

“You know my name?” Xavier said.

Who didn’t? Xavier Lipshitz, Esq., ├╝ber-executive, captained corporate leviathan ZemhepCo Group, one of the largest entities on the planet. Believed to be over one hundred years old, Lipshitz was a cross between Howard Hughes and Dr. Strangelove, whirring around in a plutonium-powered wheelchair; an urban legend: the wealthy-beyond-imagination eccentric circling the earth in his magenta supersonic jet.

“I’ve followed your exploits,” Xavier said. “You’re a writer, yes?”

I gaped; bewildered.

“William Faulkner once sat where you’re sitting,” he said. “Do you read Faulkner?”

Shook my head.

“Neither did I, but I always enjoyed a good piss-up with him.”

“What do you want with me?” My voice seemed to come from somewhere over my shoulder.

“I’m shopping for a biographer.” He folded his clawed hands. “I could call Salman Rushdie or Katherine Dunn, but that wouldn’t be very Xavierian of me. I want someone unknown.

“I have read your work. It’s not great, but I did enjoy a line from your story ‘Stones Falling Downward’—”

“Actually, it’s ‘As My Sparks Fly Upward.’”

“—where you imagine your hometown saying to you: ‘Gird your loins, and get the fuck out!’”

“How did you—?”

“You submitted it to a magazine owned by ZemhepCo.”

I had been submitting stories to magazines for years—always figured editors simply lit their cigars with my work. Having received an avalanche of form rejection slips, it never dawned on me that my work had ever been read. I found myself thinking aloud: “Is there a chance—?”

“We’ll publish it? No. You won’t even get a rejection letter. We’ve done away with them—cost-saving measure.”
* * *

So much more to be written...

1 comment:

Nadon said...

LONG LIVE XAVIER! Oh wait - what am I talking about, isn't he immortal?