After the Mayhem, Before the Riot
by Peter Vaeth
Bobby Stinson's fingers were still trembling as he typed the URL of the Local News Homepage in the address bar. Nothing yet. He clicked the curved arrow: still nothing.
The computer dinged and an InstaMessage window popped up
He typed back
and clicked the x in the corner of the window to close it. He dropped down his favorites list and clicked bank and logged in. He reached for his wallet and pulled out the slip with the account number and typed it in. The balance was still the same.
He checked the time in the corner of the screen: 4:47am. The Very Early Morning News would be starting soon. He got up from the computer and put on the TV with the volume just above audible. He lied on the bed and closed his eyes. His chest was still fluttering, his forehead damp. He tried taking deep breaths, hoping to doze off to make the waiting go by faster.
He thought about Amanda, as he always did when he wanted his brain to become untethered and light enough to plunge into sleep. Her silhouette before the patio door of the hotel room in Cormica, moonlight outlining the sides of her pendulous breasts as she looked out at the night, the embodiment of possibility herself, darkness smoothing the wrinkles of her ass into perfect form. They were so charged up the night before the protests they couldn't wait to throw off their clothes and transfer that certainty of purpose and rightness directly deeply into each other and this was always the point where the muscles in his head started tightening the walls of the scene squeezing out the hairy legs trying to step between his view of Amanda at the sky portal taking her hand and leading her back taking his hand and three silhouettes now bare and embracing in the moonlight--
"We have some breaking news. There's been a bizarre act of apparent vandalism discovered at the Stevens Federal Reserve Bank downtown. Marcia Gutierrez is there. Marcia...?"
Bobby shot up in bed, reached for the clicker on the nightstand and ticked up the volume.
"Yes Karen, I'm standing in front of the Stevens Federal Reserve Bank, as you know at the corner of Stevens and Main downtown," the reporter looked over her shoulder as she said this, the camera zoomed in and tilted up to frame the building's scripted name above the entrance and then returned to the reporter, "where police arrived twenty minutes ago after receiving an anonymous tip that the bank was quote 'under attack by monkeys' end quote. Now as you can see here behind me," the camera zoomed over the reporter's right shoulder towards the Main Street entrance of the building, refocusing as Bobby scooted himself towards the edge of the bed where he sat, face now only inches from the TV on its metal stand, "the large front window has been covered with what appear to be dozens of cartoon drawings of, uhm, monkeys, in fact if you zoom in to the left upper corner, that particular monkey resembles a great deal, in fact, Curious George, of course a beloved childhood icon and hero of, uhm, children's books," the camera now panning from Curious George to the other drawings of gorillas and monkeys holding bananas and swinging from trees and Bobby waited for it--there it is, the one he drew of the two monkeys in tuxedos humping each other--quickly the camera jaggedly zoomed out and panned back to the reporter, "and in addition, there is a banner taped across the revolving doors on the Main Street side of the building," the camera, finding its composure, followed the reporter to the door where, with an outstretched upturned hand, she presented the banner to her audience, "which as you can see reads, 'back to the ply-stow-scene,' apparently a reference to a, uhm, prehistoric era..."
Unable to yell aloud for fear of waking his mother, Bobby bounced up and down on the bed, punching the mattress and opening his mouth as wide as it would go. His computer started dinging and he went over to the new InstaMessage window
tdurden: mtdurden: otdurden: ntdurden: ktdurden: etdurden: ytdurden: wtdurden: rtdurden: etdurden: ntdurden: ctdurden: htdurden: !tdurden: !tdurden: !
Bobby was too comfortably over-tired to get up and check the time: the thin cotton sheets were too soft against his bare chest to abandon, his body temperature too perfectly and evenly maintained to move. He often sweated in his sleep, especially after a job, but this morning he awoke pleasantly dry. He strained his ears for footsteps or cabinet doors closing upstairs. He didn't hear anything: she'd already left for work.
He threw off the covers and went over to the computer, wiggled the mouse and checked the time in the corner: 11:03am.
Standing over the computer desk in his boxers, he checked the bank balance again: the updated amount looked long and impressive with its extra digit. He felt like screaming, then remembering she wasn't home, went ahead with a whoo-ing howl, jumping up and down and palm-slapping the low basement ceiling. The earlier morning's sanguineness returned, washing over him, euphoria coursing through his limbs. A few more jobs, that's all it'll take. He flashed on a cozy apartment, earthy area rugs and scattered paperbacks, Amanda curling her knees underneath her as she reads Patrick Vincent's An Audience Of One on the couch. And this time he didn't barge in to fuck everything up.
His daydream elation was interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone.
"Don't you know there weren't monkeys during the Pleistocene era?"
He didn't say anything back. He was too busy remembering to breathe to figure out how to respond.
"Really your ignorance can reflect poorly on our efforts. It implies a lack of research, which implies a lack of diligence," the voice said, in a calm and clipped manner. "And we want to be considered diligent, above all else."
Bobby recognized the over-articulated diction, the well-defined tah-ing of the t's, and pushed out a full breath through his lips. "It's you," he said. "You had me worried."
"Bobby, you worry just fine on your own," the voice said.
He noticed his hand had clenched into a fist: he let it uncurl and shook out the fingers. "Yeah well sorry about the monkey thing. I saw it online, this other group used it--"
"Save it for your chat rooms," the voice cut him off. "Meet me at Coffiend at three."
"You have more work for me?"
"Not the sharpest knife, eh Robert?" The voice hiccupped out a chuckle. "Back to the Pleistocene, indeed."
The wide Coffiend picture window was emblazoned with their logo mascot, The Fiend, a bug-eyed creep holding a mug in hands surrounded by shaky cartoon action lines to indicate trembling. Fienders, as the customers were called in all their commercials, sat inside on stools along the window, reading newspapers or books or files, but mostly making glancing eye contact with the downtown to-and-froers looking in at them. He didn't like it downtown, everyone trying too hard. And the bank and the courthouse: they made him squirm the same way he did when he met poser trust-fund protestors: guys with patchy, wispy beards and girls with dirty cloth bracelets and necklaces, braless under camouflage tank tops. Fucking Cormica. Amanda getting hauled off by two uniforms wearing gasmasks, each grabbing under one of her armpits as she let her body go limp, forcing them to literally drag her the whole way down the block, her bare heels scraping against the cement, bleeding, as she screamed repeatedly, "Down with the monoculture!"
He took his latte to a table in the front center of the floor. The TV hanging in the ceiling corner showed the national all-news station, muted so that the close-captioned words of the cute bespectacled anchorwoman typed themselves onto the screen, out of sync with her lips. At the bottom of the screen, three layers of crawl: symbols and numbers at the bottom; in the middle, one-sentence headlines; the top layer scrolling brand names in all caps.
The middle layer said, "Stevensville, AT – Federal Reserve Bank vandalized by 'prehistoric' pranksters." He watched, sipping his latte, waiting to see an upper-right graphic of the bank or one of the monkey pictures. He read the closed-captioning for the story of his important and clever political protest. He grew more agitated as the caffeine kicked in and there was no mention of it--but they did three fucking minutes on the trial of has-been pop star Smokey Joe. All he got was his one-sentence headline re-running in the middle crawl. That was it. He was a "'prehistoric' prankster." That didn't even make any fucking sense.
Then the café door ding-donged and Carl strutted in, pulling off his mirrored sunglasses to look both ways. He saw Bobby and started over, hooking his sunglasses over the open top of his short-sleeve flower-printed shirt, a smug smile growing on his face. He pulled out the chair across from Bobby, turned it around, and sat spread-legged and smiling, resting his arms on the back of the chair.
"Hello, Robert," he said.
"Hey," Bobby said. He felt his voice quiver as he spoke, a hot rush of embarrassed neurons shot up his spine. He cleared his throat and tried not to look at the coarse gray hairs spilling over Carl's shirt.
"Calm as always I see," Carl said, chuckling. "Are you sure you and coffee make a good couple?"
Bobby just stared at the table, rubbing his fingers together underneath. That calm and self-consciously precise patter of his, over-emphasizing the alliteration of kaw-fee and cuh-pill: Carl sounded movie-style British minus the accent. He wanted to reach over and strangle him but he'd seen him give three cops a struggle in Cormica. Carl was strong, Bobby had to admit.
"Okay, Robert, I can see you're not in a jesting mood," Carl said, leaning closer over the back of his chair. He plucked a folded white slip of paper out of his front shirt pocket and slid it face down across the table. "Meet me at this address at 6 tonight."
"'What for?' he says. "Yes, Robert, I'm going to explain every detail in a public space, where anyone can hear. Don't you know me better than that by now?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
"Can't I know anything?" Bobby said, looking up at Carl.
"Okay, don't pout," Carl sighed. "I can tell you this: it's big and it goes very high up."
Bobby widened his eyes and mouth, hoping for more. And Carl just shook his head to let Bobby know the ability to give him any more information was out of his hands.
Carl went on, smug smile returning, "Speaking of pouting, have you heard from our lovely Amanda lately?"
Bobby shook his head.
"Ah, young love unrequited. Truly tragic. Perhaps if you hadn't left her at the mercy of the police in Cormica, she wouldn't loathe you so."
Bobby rubbed his eyes with the bottom of his palms. Blood was crashing into the walls of his head, threatening to spill out of his eyes.
"Awwww, do you miss her, my lad?" Carl said. He slid a hand on top of Bobby's. "Do you miss us?"
Bobby yanked his hand away, pushing his chair back from the table. "You fucking phony!"
"My boy, please," Carl spit out at him. "You're the phoniest thing I've ever seen."
About the author:
Peter Vaeth lives and writes in Chicago, where he unwittingly continues to write about riots, in one form or another. That he will also soon be married he has chosen to term a coincidence.