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Everyone's Prettyby Lydia Millet
Having rested for an interlude between a Dumpster and a fence, Decetes staggered toward his Pinto as sirens shrieked and a fire truck careered past, narrowly missing his foot. He took a swig from his half-empty fifth of Black Label, turned the key in the ignition and talked to himself as he drove. ?Greater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his wife for his friend. Soon a black-and-white flashed its bawdy colors behind him. Decetes considered the options, which included a high-speed chase; but the time was not right. He pulled over and was subjected to an informal test. Toes, toes, wherefore art thou, unseemly digits? They were, sadly, beyond his reach. He was no longer the young and limber cavalier of former days. Black holes! The universe contracted like an angry sphincter.
He collapsed onto the street.
?Officer, he said when he was able to sit up, ?this is not necessary. I?m way below the legal limit. One beer, that?s it. My father was a member of the Temperance League. We are Mormons. To a man.
?Sir, your license has been suspended twice for this offense, said the cop. Sir? The cop was clearly a rookie. Decetes saw him graduating from high school not two years ago, a mortarboard askew atop his pimpled brow, and decided to implement Plan A.
?Listen Officer, maybe you?ll take an interest in my work. I?m a freelance editor, said Decetes. ?Review movies for a national magazine. Fact you may be familiar with some of our publications.
The rookie let him bring out a copy from the backseat, but one look at the nudity inside and Decetes?s ass was grass. The officer was a fundamentalist Christian of some stripe, clearly. Perhaps a Promise Keeper, even. Family values up the wazoo.
?We also publish a magazine for the law-enforcement community, fact I?ve done quite a lot of writing for it, started Decetes, reaching for the gun magazines spilled over the vinyl. But his hands were cuffed behind him in a trice. If he was not greatly mistaken they would be suspending his license for good. In the squad car he attempted to draw the rookie out on the subject of value systems.
?Are you of the Pentecostal persuasion? he asked. ?Your brother or father handle snakes? Snake-handling in the family? I handle one myself. Frequently.
?Shut up, please.
?Your sister speak in tongues? Glossalalia? My sister does. Once a month on the rag. I?m not kidding. Armenian, Swedish, what have you. Officer, I swear to the good Lord it?s true. You should come over and hear her sometime. I can get you in free of charge.
?Shut up! snapped the rookie again, agitated. His radio was squawking out an emergency. He picked it up, spoke into it and spun the wheel.
?I have to take a leak, I?m going to mess up your upholstery here, said Decetes. They pulled up behind two fire trucks. The house previously visited by Decetes was ablaze. A small crowd milled in the street; into the night air triumphant arcs of water spewed. Decetes was reminded of his needs.
?Don?t leave me here Officer, he begged. ?I?ll piss on the seat. Leave the cuffs on, just let me take a leak. You think a man in my condition could get far? You have my license Officer.
?All right, just shut up I told you, said the rookie in a high-pitched voice, sweating profusely. He popped the back door open and ran toward the firefighters. Decetes opened his flies to the gutter, looked over his shoulder at the cop and then wended down a driveway and through someone?s backyard. The Pinto was elsewhere. He called home from a payphone.
?There?s a possibility, he said, ?the Los Angeles Police Department may have impounded my vehicle.
?Not again, you lowlife, said Bucella.
?Just pick me up, he said.
?Forget it, said Bucella. ?I told you, the next DUI I do not bail you out.
?Wait, wait, said Decetes. ?No bailing, no nothing. I?m here in my shirtsleeves on the side of the road.
?So what, said Bucella. ?You have legs.
?I may meet with physical harm, said Decetes. ?There are several potential assailants in the area. I mean here I am on a dark street with homeless individuals and African-Americans hooked on crack cocaine.
?You?re a racist Dean, said Bucella.
?Racist, schmacist. I tell it like it is. This isn?t Disney-land Bucella. Do you want to be responsible for my stabbing death? Here I am with a guy who I think may have a switchblade, Bucella. He smells like a 40-ounce. He?s coming closer. Jesus. He?s here! Oh help Bucella! Help!
?I?m sure you?ll hit it off, said Bucella. ?No means no.
She hung up.
?Goddamn Bucella, said Decetes aloud. ?Not worth the ribonuke?oxyribe?...DNA she?s made of.
There was no one to hear him, since the street, which was well-lit by the orange glow on the horizon, housed no vagrants or addicts. He wrested a broken cigarette from his pocket, the cuffs chafing his wrists, and lit it. Pinching it tightly at the fissure, he started off in the direction of Santa Monica Boulevard, to catch a bus. But then he stopped in his tracks. Something had captured his attention. He stood swaying and gazed up at the firmament. Vast it was, but void of stars. Instead of celestial bodies the night sky was dappled with representations of his own face. How benevolent, how like a God! But how human. He was willing to admit it. A patriot and an American.
?A patriot, sir, and an American.
Let them come! His weapons were invisible but potent. His armaments were splendid. For he had what other men could only dream of having: a conscience clear as firewater.
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