Atomic Quill Press
The doctor pulled away with graceful haste. The Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant sat next to an abandoned gas station adjacent to an overgrown lot strewn with garbage and high weeds. Somewhere in that thicket might have been a suite of mangled furniture styled into the skyclad redoubt of a homeless dealer and his entourage who poach pheasants roosting in a nearby abandoned factory or filch produce from urban farmers cultivating another lot down the street. The only working streetlight on the entire block cast an eerie green glow on the expanse of asphalt; an open savannah of weeds and rubbish where a pack of stray dogs, clipped ear rots trained by their wayward owners to tear into creditors and repo men, might pass the time before going on safari for cats or unattended tots.
The doctor drove around the block and pulled over. Across the barren terrain of the lot, between two darkened houses, off in the distance, was the rear of the KFC.
"What are we doing here?"
"What do you think we’re doing? Surveying the fruits of our labour."
"You think so, do ya? Take a look at that shit coming out of the door."
"Yes. It’s called smoke."
"Let’s be on our way."
The doctor leaned across Riddles and cast a burlesque glance out the passenger window. "You’ll have to forgive me. I’m new in arson."
As if on cue, the back door of the restaurant flew open. A snarl of flames bit into the darkness.
"Look, I’m telling the getaway driver that I am ready to get away, you dig?" said the patient as he glowered fiercely at the windscreen. "Go.Now!"
"All revolutions have a price," the doctor said impatiently.
The doctor felt Riddle’s eyes digging into his cheek. He was chastened into silence. They drove through a maze of pitted back streets, putting distance between their steed and the explosion that can only be seconds away. On every block a single tenement remained, dark and decaying.
They came to a stoplight. A limousine, long and white, blew through it, like a spaceship passing a dead planet. The doctor turned right and cruised into a new neighbourhood. But it was in no better health. Block after block of dark bungalows, most windows boarded over. A blue glow bled through an occasional tattered curtain; the television lamplight of a shipwreck lost to this sad archipelago of rack and ruin.
The limo stayed with the doctor. Who was in there? An emigrant, long gone from the ghetto but compelled to return to feel the hungers rise once again in his veins and fill his lungs? To remember what drove him out and yet, to shadowbox a bogus nostalgia that those left behind felt owed to them?
Finally, after trundling the wrong way down a one-way alley, they came upon a saviour - a red, white and blue interstate shield guiding them onto 1-94. At the bottom of the ramp, just before an overpass, a Michigan State Police cruiser was lit up like a pinball machine behind a white PT Cruiser blinging with gold trim and skittish rims. The doctor swooped past them as nonchalantly as possible. "Things are hot all over."
"Damn! Will you look at that? Another DWB," the patient muttered in disgust.
The doctor gave him a mischievous smile. "There oughta be a law."
"Any more law and the brothas’ll be back in chains."
The doctor reached out to turn on the radio but his patient swatted his hand away. "Just you tend to the driving and I’ll find us some music."
Riddles’ beefy paw, festooned with carved gold rings, snaked out to massage the radio. He moved the dial through an overgrowth of static, then three bars of Vivaldi, a snippet of Jay-Z, talk radio, Bob Dylan sounding like Eartha Kitt, a heavy metal power chord, back to the Vivaldi and then... the lagging rhythm of a slow jam filled the cockpit. A male voice, low and sonorous, was courting lasciviously over a murk of scratching and the single plucked string of a guitar. An equally suggestive female voice replied, unconvinced that she should satisfy her suitor.
"I need a drink," the patient said as he sucked deeply on a Kool.
"Now you’re talking. I know just the place."
"Where?" Riddles exhaled, the smoke billowing in churlish plumes from his nostrils. "One of your uppity shrink places?" He laughed.
"Not to worry. All will be revealed."
The doctor exited onto the exchange for I-75. They wound through a brutish cloverleaf of grey, crumbling cement. Just as he was charging down the entrance ramp to this, yet another freeway, a rambler in a rustbucket hooptie began to drift out of the middle lane. Thundering from the trunk was a subcutaneous din that could wake the dead and make them wish they were dead all over again. The doctor pulled back and let the wild card steed cross over. The bumper stickers read like a ticker tape in the headlights:
"MEN ARE IDIOTS AND I MARRIED THEIR KING…and then…UP THE ANTE FOR THE PANTY."
The doctor punched the gas. The car responded with an elegant thrust.
The doctor was finding his element. In spite of the music, the velvet suspension of the car invited him to relax. The worst was over… he hoped.