Easy Money

Rain ran down the window like water in a car wash. I was sitting at my desk in the gloom, working my way through a deck of Luckies when my brother walked in.

He gave me the phony grin.

“I’ve got a job for you,” he said.

“In a pig’s eye.”

My brother is family. He’s blood of my blood. He’s a good-looking guy with a cesspool for a brain. I promised our mother I’d look after him. I promised her I’d straighten him out. I lied.

“Beat it,” I said.

I sucked on my cigarette, drawing the burning tip down to my fingers with a hiss. The smoke torched my throat on its way into my lungs.

“You need a payday,” my brother said. “I’ve got one for you.”

“Whatever you’ve got, I’d rather not catch. Scram.”

“There’s a rich guy over in Greencrest thinks his wife is cheating. He’ll pay good for proof. Trail her around, take some pictures. Collect your money.”

He dropped a scrap of paper on my desk.

“The guy’s mansion,” he said. “Stake it out. You can’t miss the wife. She’s the real thing.”

“I’ll let you know,” I said. “Now get lost.”

He knew I’d do it, because of my promise to Ma. And because I was dead broke.

I sat and waited for the hate to die down. Then I got tired of waiting. I pulled on my trench coat, slapped on my hat, and left the office.

I staked out the mansion and followed the dame into the city. She met a guy in the lobby of the Stratford and they rode together up to the twenty-fifth floor. She had a body that was built to keep a guy busy long after she was ready to take a shower. She had the face of an angel, probably fallen.

Five hundred to the house dick got me their door unlocked. I stepped in and took snaps of the action. They weren’t missionaries, that’s for sure.

I called my brother and told him I was ready to present my bill. He told me to wait an hour, which I spent drinking.

An evil-looking yellow moon hung behind ragged clouds in the east. The temperature had dropped and my cigarette was the only warm thing in the car. At the cuckold’s gate, I spoke into the squawk box.

“I’m here about the missus,” I said.

The gate swung open.

I drove up to the mansion through thick pines. The front door stood ajar.

I stepped inside. A light was on in a room to the right. I went in, doffing my hat. An old bird with white hair stood behind a large mahogany desk at the far end of the room.

“You’re here about my wife?” he said. His voice quavered.

“That’s right,” I said.

“You expect money?”

“You said it.”

He produced a gun and pointed it in my general direction. Looked like a .25.

“What’s that for?” I said.

“To kill you with,” the geezer said, coming around the desk. “You think I’ll just pay you to go away?”

“Hold on, partner,” I said. He was going to kill me if he could hold the gun still.

Reluctantly, I pulled my .38 and shot him through his wrinkled old heart. No fee for me. I put my gun away.

The blond slid into the room. She glanced at me and then crossed to the corpse and picked up the .25. She stepped over the body and centered the gun on my face.

She read my expression.

“I needed my husband dead,” she said. “Thanks.”

I wouldn’t be shooting this babe in that big chest of hers.

My brother joined us, grinning.

“Nice, huh?” he said. “She inherits and you get the blame for the shootout with Pops here. He thought you were the lover coming over for a payoff. You shoot each other.”

“The guy in the hotel room?”

“Some yegg we hired.” His grin became a smirk.

“You think she’ll let you live?” I said.

The smirk held.

“She loves me,” he said.

I smiled, imaging the look on his face when he arrived in Hell right behind me.

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Coming This September: The Antichrist

Mark your calendar. This September 15th, the Worldwide Christian Family Missions Network presents “Antichrist: The Reality Show.”

Six contestants will compete over six weeks and complete six projects. They’ll use every underhanded, dastardly, sneaky trick in the book (not the Good Book, of course) to succeed.

We all know that the world is going to hell, that the Apocalypse is due with Armageddon right behind it. The Rapture might be complete by this fall and some of us are going to be left behind. We’ll need our TV programs more than ever then.  Good news. The Antichrist will be in the house!

We’ve lined up six Antichrist candidates. It wasn’t hard. They’re all over the place. Google “Antichrist.” Recognize any of the images?

Our contestants aren’t crazy, except like a fox. They’re smooth. Slick. They’ve fallen but they can get up; they just don’t want to.

The winner’s prize: a superchurch built to his or her specs. (Yes, the Antichrist might look like a woman. Except for those cloven hooves!). When we announced this prize, it brought many true devotees of The Horned One out of their holes to audition.

First week: The Flock.  All six candidate Antichrists are sent out to gather their flocks of believers. There should be plenty of babes and hunks in each flock. There should be some rich folks in each flock. Actually, it would be best if everybody in the flocks were rich. Let’s avoid the 99%. They’re you.

Flock members must be demonstrably in their master’s thrall. Yet they shouldn’t be nuts. It’s a fine line.

Every week,  one Antichrist will be voted off the show by a jury of Catholic and Protestant clergy, Evangelical ministers, and members of churches you’ve never heard of. Everyone on the jury will have been accused, at least once, of crimes the Antichrist would be proud of.

Second Week: Money. The six flocks head out to spend the week gathering money. The personal wealth of flock members does not count. We assume that the Antichrist will have already taken control of all such assets on his own, during the enthrallment process. The flocks can steal money, grift it, embezzle it, print it, employ blackmail, pocket-picking, heists, strong-arm extortion, loan sharking and other forms of usury, protection rackets, bookmaking, you name it, just rake in the lucre. Pile up the scratch. Of course, each Antichrist is apt to fall back on his or her special talents and experience here.

Low flock is voted off. The producers will take charge of that pile of loot.

Third Week: Sex. Each Antichrist will spend Week 3 involving his or her flock in a series of bizarre, acrobatic, and crowd-pleasing sexual shenanigans beyond anything you’re likely to dream up in anticipation. Points for activities that Jesus wouldn’t do, crimes against nature, and behavior that causes you to say “Now that’s just going too far!”

Group sensitivity sessions should be interjected, so that flock members can relive what they’ve done, over and over again, to their delight or everlasting shame, depending upon that cup half empty/cup half full thing. Points deducted for police raids, disease, and defections from the flock of those who unaccountably come to their senses.

A third would-be Antichrist and his or her flock are dismissed this week. The producers will snag those among his or her followers who made them the most horny as they previewed the show. Deleted scenes will be sold to a porno company secretly connected to the network.

Fourth Week: Good Works. Hey, Antichrists. What can you do for the show’s producers? Last week’s good ratings, earned by your hour of wall-to-wall sex, aren’t going to count for anything this week. In fact, forget ratings. The time has come to step up and make us happy on a personal level.

What will it take? A cut of the money pie? Yard work and house cleaning for our wives? Or should you Antichrists turn your skills and the skills of your flock to the seduction of us producers ourselves? Whatever it is, it better be good.

Fourth contestant and flock are voted off. If the producers are insufficiently satisfied with this Antichrist’s offering this week – if the producers are plain pissed off by it – he or she will be consigned to the pit where the wolves are kept. To be filmed, of course.

Fifth Week: Politics. With all the fun out of the way, the show takes a serious turn in Week 5. The Antichrists must achieve dominion over the peoples of the world. The two remaining contestants have one week to do that.  How far can they go? How successful can they be? Control over Staten Island? Enslavement of the Teamsters? Dictatorship of the Mexican cartels?  Now is the time for our Evil Ones to really show us what they’ve got.

Sixth Week: The Final Battle. In Week Six, the surviving Antichrist takes on Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is not going to just show up and flash his SAG card. Instead, we’ll put out a casting call and a bunch of nondescript guys will audition. He’ll come like a thief in the night. We’ll pick Him because that’s how religion works.

The final battle will take place in our special iron-cage Pentagon. Both parties will be armed. Only one will walk away, but don’t worry about injuries. These are supernatural entities, or ought to be.

You might figure that Christ is bound to win. It’s in the Bible. However, the Lord moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Jesus might have to wait for the sequel.

The Mathematics of Future Paradox

“Can we watch Michelangelo work today?” my wife said, at the breakfast table.

“I have to go into the future today,” I said.

“The future? You said that you would never go into the future. You said going into the future is like a man opening his girlfriend’s mail. Ignorance is bliss, you said.”

“I’m only going ten minutes forward, max. To test and prove my theories.”

“Your equipment works,” my wife said. “Isn’t that proof enough?”

“We now know that we can observe the past. We can’t interact with it. We can’t change it. We can only watch it, like a movie. My calculations tell me that the same is true for the future, but I haven’t tested that yet.”

“The universe does not permit paradox, you always say.”

“My calculations prove this. Yet I must test the theory.”

“Will it be dangerous?”

“I don’t think so, but…”

“I want to be there.”

“This won’t be like our travels into the past. Nothing exciting will happen.”

“Nevertheless, I want to be there.”

I nodded.

“OK,” I said.

After breakfast, we cleaned up and dressed. Angela followed my out to my lab behind the house. The day was clear and warm.

In the lab, we sat down side-by-side, facing the counter that held my setup. I ran through my startup procedures and calibrated the central nexus. We put on our helmets.

I switched on the apparatus.

“I don’t see any change,” Angela said.

I moved the mouse and as we sat, we seemed to float backwards, so that we were watching ourselves from behind.

“I’m fast-forwarding,” I said. “Ten minutes into the future should take us only two.”

We sat quietly for two minutes. In front of us, we sat quietly for ten minutes.

I watched the timer and clicked the apparatus off after one hundred and twenty seconds.

“Now what?” Angela said.

“You saw us. For the next eight minutes, we sit here.”

“So?”

“Neither of us stands up during that time. We can test this. Do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” Angela said.

“If we can see into the future and then act to change it, we can create a paradox, just as we could if we could change the past. We know we can’t change the past. We can only observe it, observe the universe’s stored hologram of spacetime. Now, however, we’ve observed future events in that same hologram. Suppose I stand up?”

“I don’t think you should,” Angela said. “I don’t think you will. We neither of us did. We just sat there.”

I stood up. I stepped away from the chair and looked back. I was still sitting there.

“What the…,” I said, or thought I said. No sound came out.

“Perhaps you’re right,” said the me sitting in the chair, to Angela.

“No!” I said, soundlessly.

I stepped back to the chair and reached out. I couldn’t see my arm. I looked down. I couldn’t see myself. My hand passed through the me in the chair.

“My math is clear,” said the me in the chair. “The universe does not permit paradox.”

Bad Dreams

Todd Smith woke to find a raccoon biting his chin.

“I was at camp, dreaming that my mom wanted me to shave. Christ, I’ve only got about four hairs.”

Aaron Goldberg woke to discover that all his teeth had fallen out.

“I’ve had the same dream a hundred times. Out come the teeth. My therapist told me I was worried about losing my job, or maybe I was keeping a secret from someone. Turns out, she didn’t know bubkes about gum disease.”

Arvis Portlander was taken into custody at Microphonics, Inc., his place of work, nude in his cubicle.

“It was a lot more fun in my dream,” he said.

Matty Logan, seventh grader, came down to breakfast on a Wednesday-morning school day.

“My mom was in tears. I asked her what was wrong. She told me she had had a dream. In the dream I grew up and moved to the West Coast. I didn’t call. I didn’t write. I ate fast food and got thin. Not fat. Thin. I married a girl who was all wrong for me. The grandchildren were born and never knew my mom existed. At least she could have helped out at the time of their births, but no, my wife’s mother was a complete tyrant. She forbade my mom from flying out when the deliveries occurred. What did I do when this mother-in-law behaved like a Hitler? Nothing. I was under her thumb. At that point my mother contracted cancer but did I come home and visit her in the hospital? I came home, yes, but only to collect my childhood toys, which she had kept for me, dusted, all those long years. I wanted the toys for my children. Me, Matty Logan, monster. I tore out her heart, but still I should eat my oatmeal because the school bus was not going to hang around waiting for me to show up five minutes late.”

Bradford Simmons opened his eyes in the morning and thanked God that it had only been a dream.

“You know when you’re in a situation  where you’re totally screwed, but then you wake up and it’s only a dream? That just happened to me, in spades. I was back with my ex, only this time she understood me.  You know what I mean? Understood where I was really coming from, and she was going to make me pay for it.”

Fredrico Pascareli lives in Chicago.

“I’m a Cubs fan. I don’t have bad dreams. I don’t need them.”

The President left the White House suddenly on Friday afternoon. Reporters followed him to a psychic’s  home on U Street NW in Le Droit Park. He went into the residence and stayed for an hour, with Secret Service agents circling the building and pacing on the porch. When the President emerged, he held an impromptu press conference next to his limo.

“I had a dream last night so intense that I shared it with my Cabinet this morning. The members present were unable to shed light on the meaning of the dream. I convened the NSC and then the Joint Chiefs. No help from either, although members of both used the occasion to push their agendas in a transparent fashion that I found rather pathetic.

“I deemed the matter of sufficient importance to obtain an appointment with Madame Rose… Yes, she provided me with the answers that I required… No, I cannot share those answers… No, I cannot share the dream. It has been classified… No, I cannot share the actions that I will now take, but I can assure you that they will be significant… There are those who will be held responsible for their actions in my dream. There are those who will suffer consequences most grievous… It was just a dream but Jesus it seemed so real!”