Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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“Anything,” I say. “Anything but that.” They were trying to make me eat chicken. As an intelligence agent I had been through the wringer many times — torture, torture, forever torture. But I hate chicken. I detest chicken. I would tell them anything if I had to eat chicken.
The big one, the one with the great ears and one crossed eye, he’s coming at me with this chicken wing — this awful chicken wing. It looks like it’s been boiled. My hands are tied with rope, it feels like hemp rope again (I actually prefer hemp to nylon, nylon is too hard on the wrists; when I have a chance I request hemp). My mission this time has taken me to Zefaria. The Zefarian government has refused to give a franchise to the Coca Cola Company. It is a routine assignment: secure a franchise for Coke. I had been on the road for a month before getting into this jam. I was on a camel, traipsing across the vast Zefarian Plains, heading to meet an old roommate of mine from Yale, Harvey J. Slowcum, also a CIA operative. Harvey had an assignment in nearby Zagabear — attempting to corrupt that country’s newspapers.
Then, in the middle of my journey, I got camel-jacked. At first all I thought they wanted was the camel. They drove up in an old battered Buick, moving fast, making a lot of dust. I didn’t see the big-eared one right off. If I had, I would have kicked the camel and off I would have went. It was the redheaded lady I saw first. Flame shot from her eyes, a kind of animal-like, wild flame. She jumped out of the car and asked me which way to Passaic, New Jersey. I got off my camel. “Lady,” I told her, “are you lost. You’re on the Zefarian Plains!”
Just then, the big man jumps from the car waving a pink spear. Then two little guys, they pop out of the back seat brandishing submachine guns.
I go through my normal routine. I start crying. You’d be surprised at the effect of just simple crying in the espionage line. It puts the other side off guard. Some of those on the other side cry, too. The Russians, for instance, are big cryers. Catch some Russian spook and wow, he’ll cry and cry, about just wanting to go back to Kiev and how he doesn’t need these troubles and just got into this work because he fell into it.
The Chinese are slow to cry. But give even some Chicom spook a little business with fire — start setting fire to his pants, for instance. Now that’ll get even some hardened Chicom guy into crying.
Well, I give this gang my all but they grab me anyway, leaving behind the camel on the plains. Shoved in the back seat between these two little guys holding Thompson submachine guns — each one directly at my neck — I say, “Who’s going to take care of the camel?”
“The camel will take care of himself,” says this real slick girl.
“Where are you taking me?” I say. The car is moving — 100 m.p.h. over the sand and rhinestones.
“For a talk,” says the big man.
The redheaded lady turns back and smiles at me. She has mischief in her look, very mischievous teeth. I can’t tell her background. She doesn’t look to me like your average Zefarian who tends to be wiry and hungry-looking. She’s plump. She has a very reassuring smile.
But it isn’t that way at the interrogation. The lips are still there but Rosalie — that’s what her name turns out to be — is coming at me with a chicken leg and let me tell you there’s nothing I hate more than chicken wings than chicken legs — short of something absolutely repulsive like a chicken gizzard! She’s smirking now. And I’m getting scared.
“Please. No more of this chicken.” Rosalie shoves the leg into my mouth.
“Ahhhhhh,” I yell, the skin of the chicken is touching the tender skin of my mouth. I can still feel the feel, taste the taste, to this day! “Stop it,” I yell. “Stop it . . . ahhhhhhhh . . . no more.”
“Then tell us what we want to know,” says the big guy.
“What do you . . . ahhhhhhh . . . want to . . . ahhhhhhhh . . . know?”
“The secret of Coca Cola.”
“Coca Cola. Coca Cola,” says the two little guys, hopping up and down. The redhead has kindly begun withdrawing the chicken bone.
“Tell,” she says, softly.
“Look,” I say. “I don’t know this information. I have no need to know the ingredients of Coke. All I know is what I need to know, you know?”
They are not convinced. The redhead has a scowl on her abundant lips now and she shoves the chicken leg deep into my throat. “Bite, pig,” she demands.
With great difficulty I get the words out that I wouldn’t eat their damn chicken.
“American pig,” the big guy screams.
I lose consciousness — at least I think I did. All I can remember of that part of the torture was going back — back to Yale, group masturbation in the locker room after squash, and old Harvey J. Slowcum, at Harvey J. Slowcum’s dad’s house in Rocky River.
Harvey’s background and mine were surprisingly similar. I am from Akron, Ohio. Dad was big in the scale business. We had the biggest scale business in the U.S. (Grandpa pushed all the other scale businesses out of business.) Ours was an old Akronite family. We had been into scales for many generations. Now, the company is owned by TXC Enterprises, Inc., the conglomerate which also merchandises frozen pizza pies, finger paints, milk and schoolteachers. Harvey’s dad would tell me back in Rocky River, “Clive” — that’s my name, Clive Randolph — “you’re our kind. Most of the others these days, they’re just N.Q.O.S. (not quite our sort).”
I regained reality, so called, suddenly. I could feel chicken meat going down my throat and I knew I would have to tell this band of leeches and ticks anything to make them stop.
“Yes I will tell you,” I exclaim. They stop their dirty business. I spit the chicken from my mouth.
“OK what’s the secret?” says the big man, bearing down on me. The beautiful redhead is just behind him, still half of a slimy chicken in her hands.
“Piss from Persian cats, boiled, add caramel and some sugar — it’ll give you Coke,” I say. This is not correct. Indeed, I do not know the secret to Coca Cola. This matter is handled by a totally different section at the Agency. But they buy it.
“Thank you mister, thank you a lot,” the big man with the big ears says. He turns around and marches with the two small guys, out of the interrogation room — a suite in the Holiday Inn in Bugluvia, a Zefarian backwater town. I’m left with the redhead, who unties the rope around my wrists.
“We’re going out,” she says. “We’re going out for some Chinese food.”
I don’t like ordinary Chinese food. But I figure I have little choice. I know I only have a certain amount of time before the big man and his assistants round up some Persian cats. I have to plot my escape.
In a booth in the Bugluvian Hing Hong Royale — over water buffalo lo mein — the redhead and I discuss business. I tell her briefly about my last tour, poisoning stubborn radio announcers in Mexico. She says that someday me and my filth will disappear. I tell her that she has been misinformed, that she knows nothing about the real world. Then we stop talking politics, and receive fortune cookies — my fortune is: IF IT MAKES YOU NAUSEOUS STOP DOING IT — and we stroll back to the Holiday Inn. I know once we got off the elevator that the big guy and his assistants have been rounding up Persian cats. You can hear all kinds of meowing.
Rosalie sees me stiffen. She must know what I’m thinking. She tugs my elbow and says, “You’d better have told the truth.”
The big guy and his two assistants have about 100, maybe 200 Persian cats, big fluffy things, and there are paper cups strewn all around. In a Zefarian dialect I’ve never heard, one little guy is telling the cats to piss.
I figure out a plan: I will jump.
“OK you bums, I’m leaving.” I run for the large window with a view of downtown Bugluvia. I’m 15 feet, 10 feet, 5 feet away, I put my elbow out — elbow first out a window, I figure — and powieee! I hit the window with terrific force but it doesn’t break. I fly back into the room, and wow does my elbow hurt! The funny bone, you know.
The two little guys, back with their submachine guns again, are over me at once. The big-eared guy comes over and steps on my face. Rosalie spits at me.
I’m lying there on this acrylic carpet, surrounded by all these cats — knowing that it’ll be curtains unless I make it out and soon.
I decide that I had just better tell this gang off. “You’re creeps,” I get up and declare. “You’re low-life, you got no class, you’re foreigners, you’re shit.” I’m getting hotter and hotter under my collar. I finally yell out: “You’re N.Q.O.S.”
“What is this you mean?” says one of the little men.
I begin to explain when I see, on the ledge along the window, my fellow agent, old Harvey, and a security man from BankAmericard and another from Gulf Oil. I am being rescued.
I dash for the window again, and the gang runs after me. Persian cats and paper cups full of cat piss are flying all around. My rescuers on the ledge are armed with a bazooka. I ram against the window. Again, I bounce back. The fiends are almost on my heels. Old Harvey, a good cheer fellow at all times, points to a handle on the window. I can see his lips are saying, “Open it,” and I know just what he wants me to do. I open the window. I dart out. The gang and several dozen Persian cats come flying after me. All of us, the gang, me, the cats, and old Harvey and the BankAmericard and Gulf Oil agents end up tumbling down on top of a big canopy awning, over the front entrance to the Bugluvian Holiday Inn.
There is a tangle of wrestling bodies and whining cats in the billows of the canopy.
I am wrestling with the two little guys. I kick them hard in the genitals. Harvey is fighting with the redhead. The BankAmericard and Gulf men are being wiped out by the big man with the big ears, although I notice they are using the bazooka to give him some strong wallops on the head. Then we all fall off the awning, down to the street, in the middle of a visiting delegation of Palestinian terrorists, a reporter for the Chicago Daily Bugle, and a CIA agent I know by the name of Ralph who has been busy trying to undermine the educational system in Zefaria. The reporter works for him, part-time.
On the ground, it’s even messier. The pack of battling people gets bigger and more Persian cats are tumbling down from the motel room.
I see finally my chance for a break — a passing bus, which I hop on, neatly leaving the fracas behind.
I look out the back window of the bus as it pulls away and see old Harvey Slowcum on the tail end hanging on for dear life. Good man, Harvey. He’s not going to be stopped by any band of Third World weirdos.