Ganja haze hung in the air and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy blared on the stereo when the buzzer rang. Delilah turned the music down. Gunther entered with a strange woman. “Leroy dropped her off. He said to take care of her.”
“Hoc est lupanar?” the woman asked.
“Who is she?”
The woman walked around the room as if looking for something. She went up to the stereo and pointed to the speakers. “Ubi musici?” she asked, peeking around and behind the speakers.
“What’s she doing?” asked Gunther.
“I don’t know.”
The woman then noticed the spinning record on the turntable and grabbed the tone arm, making a blood-curdling scratch.
“Oh, fuck, you just ruined my record!”
She looked up at them in confusion, the tone arm still in her fist. “Ubi musici?”
“What’s the matter with her? Is she retarded?”
Delilah pulled her away from the stereo and sat her down on the bed. “Who are you?”
“Quis es tu?” Pointing to Gunther, she asked, “Ille aquariolus est?”
“What’s that, Spanish?”
“She doesn’t look Mexican,” said Gunther.
“Do you know any Spanish?”
“Not much. I hate Spanish class.”
“You must know something. Can you ask her where she comes from?”
“Donde something—oh, yeah, donde es? I think. Donde es?”
“Non intelligitis,” the woman said.
“Are you a pedophile?”
“Pedophile. You know, child molester.”
“Obviously, she doesn’t understand, Delilah.”
“Ohe! Pedo?” she said, embarrassed, pointing to her buttocks.
“Well, that’s one way they do it.”
She pointed to Delilah. “Pedere te amo?”
“No, I am not a pedophile. I mean I’m not into that.”
“Quid me rogas?”
“What’s that in Spanish?”
“I don’t think it’s Spanish.”
“Pedere,” the woman reiterated, pointing again to her buttocks.
“Oh, gross, she farted,” said Gunther. “Stand back!”
Delilah laughed. “I don’t think we’re getting anywhere.”
The woman pointed to her stomach. “Esurio.”
A bowl of tortilla chips and salsa was fetched. She took one in her fingertips, crunched into it and chewed it slowly with a scowl.
“Well, now we know she’s not Mexican,” said Gunther.
“Hey, do you think she’s Jeff’s friend? Maybe he met her in that fake Ancient Rome in China with all the Italian slaves and she somehow got teleported here. Is she speaking Italian?”
“Doesn’t sound like Italian either.”
“I wonder where he is.”
“Perhaps he’ll show up later.”
“Ask her if she knows Jeff.”
“I can’t remember how to say that in Spanish.”
Delilah stood up and mimed a much taller version of Gunther. “Do you know Jeff? He was also wearing a tunic just like you’re wearing.”
“Yef? Est adhuc in carcere,” she said.
Gunther passed her the burning joint.
“Quid est hoc?”
Imitating Gunther, she took a toke and coughed it right back out. Delilah turned the music back up. The woman stared around nervously. She pointed to Delilah’s macramé lantern hanging from the ceiling. “Quod est lucerna? Ubi flamma est?”
“It’s my lamp.”
“You were there in that fake Rome. Don’t they have modern technology?” said Gunther.
“Let’s go get something to eat. I’m hungry too. Maybe she can find something she likes there.”
When they arrived at the cafeteria, Deshondra confronted them. “Ain’t she the one in the toilet stall with that whitey wear the dress?”
“Yeah, what she doing back here?” said Akeeshea.
“Leroy dropped her off at my place and we don’t know who she is.”
“We don’t neither. All we know is she can’t speak English and your old honky friend was caught with her in the ladies room.”
“Yep, that’s the one.”
“Where is he?”
“They both got hauled off to the station.”
“That’s what she was trying to explain,” said Gunther.
“Then we’d better get back to my place right after lunch in case he’s released.”
They brought their food to the table. The woman had examined all the offerings and on her tray were servings of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fish, bread rolls, pickles, grated cheese, and honey. Tasting the gravy, she wrinkled her brows and asked, “Garum non est?” Receiving no response, she mashed up the fish with a spoon, stirred the gravy into it with added salt and spread the mixture on the bread. Then she chopped up the pickles into tiny bits and mixed it with the cheese and honey into the mashed potatoes. She ate that with the spoon in one hand, while spearing the leg of chicken with a knife and eating it directly off the knife in the other. Delilah and Gunther stared.
Malmquist was waiting outside Delilah’s building when they got back. “Hurry up, man, I can’t stand out here forever in this tunic. I’m getting suspicious stares. How’s Attica doing now? Has she calmed down?”
“Who is she?” asked Delilah.
“She’s from Rome.”
“That’s what we thought. But it doesn’t sound like Italian she’s speaking.”
“No. Ancient Rome. As in 2,000 years ago. She speaks Latin.”
“Do you have any idea of the hassle we got ourselves into?” said Malmquist once they were inside. “We were teleported to your good old ladies room in the cafeteria where you yourself disappeared. We found ourselves inside a toilet stall with a female customer in it! She freaked and we next found ourselves in the slammer. Luckily Inspector Melynchuk was there to come to our rescue. Then Attica threw a shit storm when they locked in her a cell. She took her tunic off, rolled it up and whipped the guards with it when they opened the door. Of course, she had no idea what was going on and nobody could explain. They didn’t know what to do with her because she doesn’t have a chip in her and her origin is unknown. So they let her go. But I had to get pulled through a bunch of paperwork before I got out due to the ladies room incident.”
“Why did you bring her here anyway?”
“I’ll get to that. Let me lay out what I need you to do first. I was detained in Chicago in the future, the year 2115, a suspect in your disappearance—”
“Just trust what I’m saying for now. We can’t find you anywhere. I escaped from there and am reluctant to go back again until you’re found.”
“But I’m right here.”
“Your 72-year old self. I want you to go there and try to locate yourself. Using Attica’s tunic I’m going to try to send you there, I mean here, on the assumption you’re still in New Gary 55 years from now. Can you give her something to wear? You have to put on the tunic you’re now wearing on top of that tunic and then we write ‘New Gary’ on it. But wait. That won’t get us very far. The Chinese have taken over by then. We have to write it Chinese. Shit. How do I do that?”
“Maybe someone at the police station knows?”
“Oh, yeah, that android cop, what’s his name, might. He said he couldn’t recognize Attica’s language in his ‘database.’”
Malmquist wrote the following on his tunic: “MELYNCHUK, WHAT’S NEW GARY IN CHINESE? ASK THE ANDROID.”
“When you arrive,” he continued, “check your apartment here and the cafeteria and the police station. Ask around if necessary. Oh, right, you can’t. They’ll all be speaking Cantonese. Anyway do your best. If you find yourself, great. You’re then going to take her up to Chicago to see a female cop named Wingyee. You’re going to go there anyway even if you don’t manage to find yourself. There’s a restaurant called the Heartland Café way up in the north part of the city. Look for an old man named Cornelius who’s a regular there. He always goes naked and has a huge rainbow-tattooed cock he likes to show off, and a parrot on his shoulder. He speaks English and knows Wingyee.”
“How do I find this place?”
“I’ll draw you a map. Now, if you do find your 72-year old self, you’re all set and I can go back there no longer a suspect. But if you don’t, I have another idea. I want you to convince Wingyee to go with you to Chinese Rome. That’s the only other place I can think of where you might be hiding. She’s eager to find you as well, so it shouldn’t be too hard to convince her. You’ll need to pick up one of these travel tunics at the Heartland Café gift shop. They’re free. She puts that on and you hold hands as she writes the words for ‘New Rome’ in Chinese on your tunic, just like what we’re going to do now to send you to the future.”
“What do I do if we still can’t find her?”
“You come back. I want you to keep me updated by sending me messages on your tunic. I hope you can do this fast. I’m stuck here with Attica in the meantime. I’m planning to take her to New Rome—the New Rome you’ve already been to—but can’t do that until you’re back with her travel tunic, so she can use it again.”
“It sounds so complicated. Why didn’t you take her there first before coming here?”
“I’m a suspect there as well. I got this new tunic soaked in that powerful hallucinogen again and they want it. They’ll take the tunic away and I don’t know if I’ll be to get another one if they confine or arrest me. Then I’m fucked. So when I finally go back there with Attica, I want all my other business taken care of and out of the way. I also want Wingyee to go with me for my protection, and that can’t happen until we solve your missing person problem.”
“Hold on a sec,” said Delilah. “You said the writing goes on the tunic of the person who is traveling. But as soon as the Inspector writes the Chinese words for New Gary on your tunic, won’t you be sent there instead of me?”
“Oh, yeah. You’re right.”
“He just wrote back.”
Malmquist looked down at the Chinese on his tunic:
“Fuck, I gotta get this off me before I’m sent there.”
“No. You would already have been sent there.”
“Oh, I guess we have to directly write it on the tunic with our finger or it won’t work.”
Malmquist pulled off Attica’s tunic.
“Quid agis?” she said, confused.
“Wow, do you ever have a great body. Here, put these on,” said Delilah, who handed her a T-shirt and a hippie skirt. She took off her tunic, put Attica’s on and her own back on over it.
“By the way,” said Malmquist to her, pointing to Gunther, “you don’t walk around naked all the time with him here, do you?”
“Nah,” said Gunther. “She can’t scandalize me. She’s well behaved.”
“What do you mean?”
“She only takes her clothes off when others are present, like you. She’s an exhibitionist.”
Malmquist drew a crude map of Chicago with the Heartland Café’s location. “Don’t lose this,” he said, folding it and sticking it in Delilah’s tunic pocket. He then took off his own tunic and asked Gunther to hold it up next to Delilah. “Sorry for our little exhibitionist show here but I have to see how to write these characters.”
As soon as Malmquist traced the three characters on Delilah’s tunic, she was gone.
“Great, it worked.”
“Quo abiit?” said Attica. “Et misisti ea ad Romam?”
“She thinks I just sent her to Rome.”
“That would be cool. I want to go there.”
“I don’t think you’d like it. It’s a pretty rough place. Filthy. You’d be employed as a slave boy hauling around basins of water in the brothels to wash the prostitutes with. You know who really needs to go there? Danny. Without his guns. For good.”
“He’s the one who has a bounty on you?”
“You can never go back to Chicago, then, until that’s over. Way too dangerous. They can blow you away with impunity.”
“I was just there! Teleported right into the basement of his house. I got out through a tunnel into a neighbor’s house across the street. They thought I was a pedophile sent by Danny to molest their little daughter! They put me in a cage and I escaped from them too just in time with the tunics.”
“Which means I could go back there and escape again, though it’s risky and dangerous. Hey, I have an idea. You said you know a secret route out of New Gary.”
“Show me. We’re going back there.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Don’t you have to wait for Delilah to come back before you can go anywhere?”
“She’s not going to be back right away. She may need some time. But I don’t know when I’ll be back here again. Let’s go.”
“You’ll be tracked by your chip.”
“I know. But there’s a window of opportunity to act before I’m caught. This may be my only chance.”
“What about her? You can’t leave her alone here, can you?”
“She’s coming with.”
Gunther took them a few blocks south to a hole in the fence not far from I-94 and out of range of the guns. Once on the other side of Highway 912, Gunther hired an aircab. He had Malmquist speak the address into the dash and they took off across the city in the self-flying vehicle.
“Amazing. How fast do these go?”
“About 150 miles per hour.”
“Why don’t more people fly in these things? I still see a lot of cars on the roads.”
“Lots of people are afraid to fly.”
“Do these crash?”
“As often as regular cars do. She’s not afraid? I doubt they have these in Ancient Rome.”
“She was at first when Leroy brought us over to Delilah’s. But she quickly became fascinated and called it—what was it you called this, Attica?”
“Currus caeli et terrae.” She looked up to the sky and intoned, “Ore trahit currusque suos candescere sentit.”
“What’s that, poetry?”
She smiled proudly and continued, “Hic situs est Phaethon currus auriga paterni quem si non tenuit magnis tamen excidit ausis.”
After ten minutes in the air, they landed at 666 West 26th Street. They walked up to the house across from Danny’s house and knocked. The man with the blond Afro opened the door.
“Hello, Marvin,” said Malmquist. “Can we come in?”
“Where the hell did you go to? You escaped right in front of our eyes! The police are after you and you’re not going to get away this time if I can help it. Who’s this? A new boy you seduced?”
“This is Gunther. I have no intention of seducing him. He’s going to help us capture Danny.”
“And who’s the gal?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“He’s back!” said the wife and daughter in unison as Malmquist and Gunther entered. “Get the pedo cage!”
“Yep, we’ll need that,” said Malmquist. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Gunther, you’re going to run over to Danny’s house across the street and knock on his door in a panic, saying Marvin and I molested you—”
“Don’t you go accusing me of molesting anyone!”
“It’s a ruse, dummy. Make sure you announce my name, Jeff Malmquist. Tell him Marvin is guarding the first floor entrance and he’s well-armed, so you’ll lead him into the house via the basement tunnel. They’re having a birthday party for their kid and I’m in the basement molesting the children. I’m not armed so he can easily capture me. Danny already knows I don’t know how to use a gun.”
Gunther ran over to Danny’s, and was seen from the living room window being let in the front door by Slim. Down in the basement, Malmquist placed himself in the cage, which was positioned before the tunnel entrance, the basement lights turned off. Mere minutes later, a light could be seen approaching from the far end of the tunnel. As Danny, and Gunther after him, got closer, the daughter as instructed shouted, “Stop doing that to me!”
A flashlight helmet emerged from the tunnel entrance. Danny was met with a more powerful beam, blinding him. The wife and daughter pressed gun barrels against him as Marvin snatched away his AR-15. They pushed him into the cage—right between Malmquist’s legs. They wedged him in further so that he was trapped against Malmquist inside his tunic, and shut the cage door.
“What are you fucking doing!” screamed Danny as he struggled. As Malmquist wrote the word “ROMA” on his tunic, Danny managed to remove a pistol from his pocket. Malmquist grabbed his arm and thrust it away from him just as Danny got off a couple shots. Then both vanished from the cage.
* * *
Forthcoming January 2018:
The Kitchens of Canton, a novel