Boy’s night out. Score chicks, score them hard, score them all night long.
We were on codenames. Ghost Man, Merlin and me. Best outfits on, shoes polished, cash and carry. I had a doll on one arm, some strange little brunette who had crossed into the no-zone about twelve and a half minutes ago. Merlin, he was wise. He bought himself a dark corner and slammed the drinks down. Ghost Man — now, there’s one for you. I’d lost track of him several times as he faded on and off the dance floor, weaved to the bathrooms to vomit foul blood, returned with several women and pawned off the sad and sick to my anti-social camp by the bar. Merlin knew what Ghost Man did not — I was, once again, about to be ejected for drunk, disorderly and wildly bitter.
“The Nigerian email scam?” I told the brunette at my elbow, “All me.”
She eyed me drunkenly, slitted against light, pain or blur, “You stole that joke. I can read it all over your face.”
I laughed, I took that as my cue. I rocked her off the stool and spun her around as the bartender appeared. “Vodka!” I said to him. “Hanger One, on the rocks of love.”
“No.” He replied.
“These negative words will pull your soul to the ground, brother!” I grabbed the girl’s arm, I steered her through the crowd, up two steps, down four, then to Merlin’s table. Merlin lurched back as if he didn’t recognize me, then shook his head clear.
“Fresh meat!” I screamed as I threw the girl towards him. He missed the catch and she slammed against the wall. I grinned at her, “This here’s Merlin, and you’re…a girl.”
Merlin eyed me darkly, and I knew that we had both reached the top bar, the final step, the last —
“Can I finish your drink?” I asked him, near to tears.
“Jesus,” Merlin whispered.
He just shook his head and turned to the girl, which let me off the hook. I drifted back to the bar and Ghost Man appeared with six girls chittering around him in crazed orbits. He grabbed my shoulder and moved me to the exit, “Slider, you’re gone. They want to kick you out.” He nodded towards Merlin, who tried to stand and fell to the floor. “You gotta be more like Merlin, dude.”
“He can’t stand,” I snapped, “dude.”
“Yes, but he’s not leaning against the bar screaming about his all-seeing, all-knowing cock.”
“Was I doing that?”
We hit the night air — Ghost Man, Merlin, me and Ghost Man’s entourage of painted women. U Street bustled — white yuppie and angry black and rapid Spanish thrown into the eternal struggle for or against gentrification. The white man came and took it all away. Buildings down, buildings up, swept clean, property rise, eject all color from the day and night. Cars screamed and clusters formed. Here on the frontier, there was still the unexpected. The blacks crowded in and the whites parted as Ghost Man led our flying wedge forward in search of a secret location — I scanned ahead, trying to figure out what horror he was about to throw himself at, but it soon became clear that he had no purpose, no destination, no method. The girls fanned out behind him and a pale woman in slacks, her hair black as night, took my arm as if I needed help to stay in formation; Merlin, behind me, was singing classic Talking Heads. He marked us. Don’t Worry About the Government. I see the states across this big nation.
Ghost Man spun left, then right. He was dodging color in the air, on the sidewalk, in our lives. I turned my head and saw the change in the city. I turned my head and saw them erased as the streets became white again. I will relax along with my loved ones– Merlin stopped early. Something distracted him. An African had grabbed him, babbling in a heavy accent, shaking him roughly. I turned hard, the girl with the raven hair jolted, tripped, spun. Merlin’s on the ropes; I shouted over my shoulder for Ghost Man, but he was already leaping past me, talking intimately with the African. I swear he was switching languages, bumping from suburbs to city to Ghana. Suddenly, Ghost Man and the painted women hiked up a steep metal stairway, stepping into what looked to be residential, sitting above a basement-level grocery store and ethnic fast food hole in the wall. Merlin stepped up, then paused. He and the African looked at me, an island in the sea of flowing people, me and a raven.
“Up!” the African barked, indicating the stairs. Merlin smiled.
“Up, up!” the African shouted again. Merlin flashed a look that said, ‘Retard.’
The raven whispered: “Up.”
I shrugged and we rolled up the stairs, stepping through a thick door, to find ourselves in a DC brick hothouse, fireplace long zoned away, a homemade bar tucked under stairs to the second level, townhouse-cum-bar, glittering lights and booze for all. Tables and chairs set up, another African manning the drinks, a dark woman leaning against the fireplace — waitress or weapons expert? The raven guided me to a couch in the back — Ghost Man ordering. Merlin had vanished, but soon appeared from behind me in a sea of cushions.
“No back support,” he muttered darkly.
“Heineken, Heineken, Heineken, Heineken, Heineken…” Ghost Man said, pointing at various members of his escort, painted women smiling as his finger hit each of them. He switched between that and various cocktails, though it appeared our girls were mainly beer drinkers. The raven had subliminally ordered a gin and tonic, as had I. I took stock as to whether or not gin would settle. Parts of my rational mind said no, my stomach said that the following day was lost regardless.
The gin appeared in my hands. I drank. I began lecturing about the “battle” of St. Albans, Vermont. One of the many odd footnotes in Civil War history. A group of heavily armed Confederate commandos casually check into the town’s main hotel, enjoy local amenities, then, once prepared, round up the populace in the village green, shoot a few, and rob several banks to the tune of $280,000. Then a mad dash for the Canadian border where they’re caught by the authorities.
In Ghana, there are no rules. The bartender will never kick you out. Merlin was on a table shouting and I was soon drawing diagrams about an imaginary “second front” that could have crippled the Union and brought about a southern victory. How easy it could have been if only von Stauffenberg’s bomb hadn’t been bungled and Lincoln had been killed. Generals were in place throughout the Union to take over and negotiate peace with the Allies, bringing about an era of —
Ghost Man stopped me. He said I had confused wars. I insisted that there was a relation and that he should allow me to get to my point. Then I was sitting on the bar, legs crossed, singing Ute Lemper songs. The time in between is a missing link, but the gin never dropped below the ice. I had a magic glass!
Later, the raven and I met outside the unisex bathroom, behind the boxes of beer. She pressed to me and we kissed. I told her up was down and she knew down was up and, together, opposites would meet. She whispered in my ear, but language had begun to shift. I lost the thread of her being, and her flesh melted against mine, her lips sliding across my eyes, her breasts moving against me, her hair smoke and sweat. Her tongue traced across my neck and my stomach lurched, my hands froze, my head fell back and slammed against the brick wall. Breath caught somewhere inside me, my fingers twitched out, she slithered down with a satin rush and crouched in front of me, unzipping.
I felt myself in her mouth, I closed my eyes and ran a hand through her brittle hair. I felt her movement, her spit pouring out, modern porn star messy. My breath returned in gasping sobs, my stomach barely able to keep the pace, the brick now biting into my skull and my shoulders and my left elbow as I rocked back and forth into her mouth, pressing deep inside until she hesitated and pushed away, then relented again. She gagged, I moaned. I gripped her head and she fought back, grabbing my wrist, pushing against my thigh, then the wall…then release. She fell back roughly, darkly staring up at me in revulsion.
“Slider!” Ghost Man greeted me on my return, “Connect with that ball?” He mimed a player at bat, hit an imaginary ball, didn’t watch it go far and into the stands but, instead, held my eyes.
I’m ugly. I’m hateful.
“Slider popped,” Merlin giggled.
The painted women were sober. They knew. The dark waitress was disgusted. The bartender was laughing. I moved through a looking glass.
Ghost Man whipped one of the painted ladies around, a willing kiss, a strong one. The painted ladies had now been thrown into civil war themselves. The battle of St. Albans. Ghost Man had made a choice and the others were trapped in a strange bar, a strange village green.
Coffee appeared in my hands. Strong and black. The raven also appeared and slipped past me without acknowledgement. She took several painted ladies with her. They vanished with a whimper.
“Sally, don’t you go downtown.” Ghost Man called after them. Gracie Slick, Great Society. Jaynetts first, right? Someone before them? All music recycled. I swam back towards Merlin.
“You’re in a dark land, Slider.” He muttered. A blonde had joined him. He would go home with her. He would fuck her. He would love her. She would leave him in six weeks. He drinks too much, he’s abusive. She walks out with half his CD’s and owing him three grand. She never answers her phone. Three months later he’s still angry and we fight because I tell him to get over it.
Ghost Man sat next to me, a girl with a boy’s haircut settling on his lap. She ran her hand down his shirt, played with his nipple, put her mouth to his neck and worked hard. “This is the Slider I love to see, man,” he said to Merlin, “This is the Slider of the past!”
He’ll fuck that girl, but he can never hold a relationship together. Ghost Man’s that kind of guy.
Then, again, maybe none of that will happen. The gin was predicting the next steps. It was the whispering fortune teller that joined me as I walked back into the bar. I looked towards the windows. The clear, bright night had turned to rain. The world had changed with the flow of one simple ejaculation. A mirror universe. I stood up and staggered forward against a table.
“Slider. Dude.” Merlin hissed, his drink spilling across his thigh and onto the floor.
“Andrew?” Ghost Man asked worriedly.
We were on codenames. Ghost Man, Merlin and me. Clothes stained with sweat and booze, shoes scuffed, ATM money flown away to two bartenders, and I stood alone. The Metro station was about ten minutes away. The night was over.
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