An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 10

28 Dec

After an immeasurable time later in which all life before it could only have survived in his mind as a trace of a dream, a trace of a trace, Pensivemo woke up under a sky of black clouds just as someone poked his arm.

‘What the hell do you want?’ he found himself saying. He thought maybe he’d been drunk and had fallen asleep in a ditch somewhere. All around him were broken stones and crowds of dirty people, sleeping, sitting up and holding one another. Over the people on the ground stood a series of well-dressed men and women in black uniforms.

A man in a suit leaned over to Pensivemo and said, ‘It’s amazing you’re alive. Everything still working? Everything important, at least?’

Pensivemo frowned and tried to determine to whom the voice and face belonged. It was the droopy-jowled, hyperactive Dr. Sintek.

‘Yeah … I know you,’ Pensivemo said.

‘Of course you know me. Are you having memory trouble? Do you know where you are? Oh, how stupid of me. Of course you don’t know where you are because you aren’t where you were before.’

‘Where am I?’

‘You’re outside of the Meta-Corp building,’ Sintek said.

‘Meta-Corp? The hell’s that?’

‘It’s where you were. It eh … It’s greatly damaged but we can work with what’s left, surely.’

Pensivemo tried to get up to have a look around him but was too sore to move.

‘Do you know who you are, at least?’ Dr. Sintek asked.

‘I’m Pensivemo.’

‘Great, wonderful! At least you know something.’

Pensivemo frowned at him. With great pain, he turned a little and saw a giant, white building with a dome top. When he shifted upward, he saw that this dome top was only one of many on a building that stretched far beyond what his angle allowed him to see.

‘That’s the building I was in?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘That’s the one,’ Sintek said.

‘It doesn’t look too damaged.’

‘Well, you can’t really see the damage from this side, so much.’

‘Meta-Corp?’

‘Meta-Corp.’

‘What’s the Meta for?’

Sintek frowned, considering this. ‘Metaphor? I’m not sure there is one. Eh, I hate to be a pest, but we’re going to have to get a move on. You are, after all, a wanted man, remember?’

‘By whom?’

Dr. Sintek tried to pull him up by the arm and Pensivemo let out a little yelp. ‘Oh, sorry! Here, can you move your legs?’

Pensivemo forced himself up despite the pain, slowly, until he stood. ‘Who am I wanted by?’

‘Well, you’re wanted by a few different factions, see. If you’ll remember, you didn’t gain a whole lot of favor with the Inner Meta-Corp Militia, who were the cowboys in blue that were hassling you, if you remember.’

‘Of course.’

‘And then there’s the Lower-Level A firm, which I’m sure you wouldn’t want to have to run into again.’

‘No, no. They’re still after me?’

‘Oh yes. Definitely.’

‘Were they the first?’

‘No. The original firm that indicted you is the one that actually detained you and brought you in. You still don’t remember that?’

‘None of it. Who are they?’

‘It’s a firm called Meta-Corpse, you see. This is where it gets convoluted. The name is so close to Meta-Corp, and they carry themselves in such a lofty, professional way that dumber people quickly get them confused with something more important.’

‘So they’re not really a threat?’

‘Oh they’re definitely a threat. I mean, they have some pull around here and some strict laws, especially on artists like yourself, but it’s incredibly underhanded and sneaky. They put “corpse” in their name as a sort of eschatological allusion to their partnership with the Lower-Level A firm, you know, with their sinister imagery—the dead shall rise and be judged and all that. That’s sort of the imagery they’re going for in their punitive aspect.’

‘They sentenced me to a life of torture, Doc,’ Pensivemo said. ‘A life of torture. You ever heard of such a thing?’

‘Yeah, they’re known for that. That’s one firm you don’t want on your ass. How the hell did you wind up down there, anyway?’

‘Well, I was with eh, what’s his name, the Dean of Grievances?’

‘Rover.’

‘Yeah, him. Little swine stayed behind. But I was just trying to get to safety, you know … One of the levels looked like a warzone.’

‘Ah yes.’ Sintek sighed and shook his head, glancing off at the Meta-Corp building as though at something beloved. ‘That was between the Inner Meta-Corp Militia and a firm called Argonaut.’

‘So, they would have just tortured me if it wasn’t for that earthquake? Forever?’

‘Here, we’ll talk more on the jeep,’ Sintek said.

The said jeep pulled up and a few darkly dressed men in front welcomed them onto the back. With creaky, sore joints, Pensivemo hopped on. Raised that much higher, Pensivemo had a better view of the endless network of buildings linked together that made Meta-Corp. The black clouds above them were so thick that he thought it might have been smoke.

The jeep moved along a little cement pathway in between a series of polished, industrial buildings: shipping yards, factories, chemical plants, offices and even a few strip malls filled with barbeque joints, diners and sandwich shops—perhaps for the local workers during lunch hour.

‘So, the Dean of Grievances was telling me something interesting,’ Pensivemo said. ‘You don’t work for the top guys exactly … I don’t want to offend you by sounding crass, but basically, if I understand it, you capitalize on the charges that get flung at people by different firms, and you side with an opposing firm as a defense attorney?’

Sintek gave him a squinty, amused smile and, in such a way that a bit of spittle flew out, said, ‘There are no top guys.’

‘None?’

‘Not really. There’re a series of mediators, I suppose.’

‘Who do you work for, then?’

‘Well, things are complicated, see. I used to work for a firm called Myron Bank, see, but there’s been a readjustment in corporate structure, though I’m sure “readjustment” seems like an understatement to you, given the rumbling and all that.’

‘So who do you work for now?’

Sintek smiled. He pointed up at the black clouds.

‘You work for the sky?’ Pensivemo said.

He frowned and shook his head.

Pensivemo let out a little laugh. ‘Who then?’

‘Well … I work for the one responsible for some of the demolition and the renovations that you started to see happen at Meta-Corp, I’m sure.’

‘You’re talking about earthquakes?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Someone was responsible for them?’

‘Yeah.’

‘And that’s who you’re working for?’

‘Yep.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘Well … see, we don’t exactly speak his name,’ Sintek said, smiling nervously.

‘You don’t speak his name? What do you mean?’

‘I mean … we don’t speak his name.’

‘You’re not allowed?’

Sintek shrugged.

They went through an open gate in a chain-link fence and ended up in a parking lot behind a big warehouse.

‘Have you seen him?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘Never.’

‘Seriously?’

Dr. Sintek nodded.

‘So, how do you communicate with him?’

‘Through middle men, see. People higher up the chain of command.’

‘Is he immaterial or something?’

‘Ah well … that gets into complicated territory that doesn’t really have much bearing on business.’

‘Does he ever go after people? You know, does he charge them the way I got charged?’

‘Well, he may and he certainly has in the past but it’s finicky. I don’t know.’

‘Did he charge me?’

‘Well, technically no, since I’m helping you on your case now and I’m working for him.’

‘How do you know it’s a him if you’ve never seen him?’

‘It very well might be a woman, I don’t rightly know.’

‘So, technically, he or she is on my side in this case?’

‘Technically, you could say that. But we do have to lay low, you see.’

The jeep stopped. As they got off, Pensivemo saw on one of the black loading docks a sign that said Costco.

‘This is the last place I remember going before I woke up in the Meta-Corp building,’ Pensivemo said. ‘The last thing I remember was taking a bite from a little sample cup of pork and beans with a plastic spoon.’

‘Yeah well, they have good samples, don’t they?’

‘Yeah. Why are we going here?’

‘There’s a group here that’ll help you lay low.’

‘Are they even open this late?’

‘This late?’ Dr. Sintek let out a little laugh. ‘It’s only three in the afternoon, Pens.’

‘Why’s the sky so dark?’

‘It’s him, you see. He likes to make his presence a bit extravagant.’

They came to a door on a ramp near the loading docks, and as they entered the warehouse, Pensivemo said, ‘So what’s your plan in case they find me? Are we still going with the Insanity Plea?’

‘Well, it depends on which firm gets a hold of you first—God forbid any of them will, but you know, just in case. First of all, the Insanity Plea will work for groups that have a more Free Will oriented way of thinking, as was the case with Meta-Corpse. If you control your own destiny, the thing that would best free you from the charges of someone with this belief is a position in which you say that you, due to extenuating circumstances, did not have much control over your own destiny the way it would be supposed that others did, you know. And then with that we could always try and argue that artists are usually insane anyway, even if that only stands as a popular commonplace, see. All these ideas bounce around and qualify one another. Then, if we’re dealing with someone less Free Will oriented, you know, like the group Argonaut which has more of an old school Logical Positivist way of looking at things, you know, that there are no choices and that humans are absolutely locked into a strict chain of necessity, cause and effect and all that, then we would be able to paint you up as the sort of sympathetic, favored criminal of the Dostoyevsky or Goethe variety, you see? I would dare say that even the Lower-Level A firm is susceptible to the tugging of heartstrings we could pull off with the kind of dualistic thought that leads one to believe someone is different on the inside than how they act outside, you see. And me? I’m just a lawyer, kid. None of this stuff matters to me outside of a punitive context, you get me? I have to use all these different ideas against one another in order to better serve a client. It’s how I make money.’

‘And how much do you charge? That’s the important thing. Do I owe you money for the time we’ve had already or something?’

‘Well, that’s something we can discuss. It turned out that Myron Bank, as it was dissipating, you know, was able to pay me out for those few minutes of service I gave you. Consider the moment you woke up just a moment ago and up until now complimentary as far as my services go, but we’re quickly approaching a point where the dollars per minute are gonna start racking up just by me standing here and flashing my pretty eyes. That’s why we’re here.’

‘At Costco?’

‘Yep.’

‘And what about this group that’s supposed to help me lay low?’

‘Well that’s why we’re here too. You’re gonna wanna lay low either way. Now, you can lay low with these guys, which has very little to do with me, or you can lay low with these guys and continue to pay me for my services.’

‘Oh … Will they charge me for their services?’

‘Oh, they usually don’t as far as I know,’ Sintek said with a wave of his hand. They both walked across an isle and passed a large crate of bestselling books. ‘As far as I’m aware, they only charge you in conversation. They talk a lot. You listen a lot. It’s not always a small price. The stuff they talk about gets way over my head, you know. They’re Hassidic Jews. I mean, I grew up going to temple and everything but I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about half the time. I mean, I’m sure it’d all be interesting if I had the time but jeez, you know? You spend your life swimming around in law-language and you don’t have much time for any other language, you know what I mean?’

‘Right.’

‘Your ears are their currency, and as long as you don’t mind being reminded of your goyness all the time, you know, or their Jewishness, you’ll be fine. You are a goy, aren’t you? Of course you are. I can tell by your face. I hope that’s not offensive, it’s not intended to be. Anyway, so they’re usually in the electronics area. There’re a few chairs and things over there so they can go there. They stay as far away from the food court as they can, you know. You’ve seen the food, you don’t need me to explain.’

‘How come there’s no one here?’

‘Ah well, business has never been good since Meta-Corp came in. But nevertheless, we should be close now. Ohp! There they are.’

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