Malmquist took a long hot bath. He washed his two filthy tunics in the tub, rinsed them out and hung them up to dry. No writing was visible on the wet outer tunic. He slipped into Ray’s bed naked and had a long sleep. In the morning, he rummaged around her kitchen and fridge. American items — cheddar cheese, whole wheat bread, eggs, butter, the basics. There was no branding on any of the packaging, though jars of condiments bore Chinese characters printed on simple white labels. “Some kind of hot pepper jam,” he said to himself, dipping into one with his finger.
He fixed himself a grilled cheese sandwich, brewed some coffee in a percolator, and lit up an unfinished ganja roach sitting in the ashtray on the kitchen table. He took a closer look around the room. The books on the shelves and scattered magazines were all in Chinese. He fetched the bound tunics from the bathroom and hung them up on the wall across from the bed. The outer tunic read “WITCHES UNDERWEAR PARTY,” as it originally had when he first acquired it. From the kitchen he retrieved the condiment jar and traced out the characters from the label — “辣椒酱” — onto the tunic. “C’mon, Ray, where are you?” he muttered.
“Nei hai bingo aa?” said a young man with a red beard who had stepped into the apartment.
Malmquist jumped. “Who the hell are you? You scared the shit out of me.”
“Ngo hoji japlei aa?”
“Yeah, go ahead.” Malmquist motioned him in.
“Ngo hai soengmin ge pindim gungzok. Ngo zi hai soeng ze Ray jat zoeng pian.”
“Oh, you want to borrow one of her records? You work in the shop above?”
“Deoi. Ngo giu Mason,” he said, as he latched onto Malmquist’s penis.
“Yeah, I think I remember you working behind the counter when I first passed through the shop.”
Mason stared at Malmquist kindly while continuing to caress his cock. “Nei houci hou guduk,” he continued. “Nei zungji peidung singngoi maa?”
Malmquist looked down at the tumescence forming in the man’s fingers and back at him. “What are you doing to me? Are you gay?”
Mason beaked the fingers of his hand and made a stabbing motion at Malmquist’s groin. Then he repeated the gesture with his fist. “Kyungaau sigwat.”
“Kyungaau,” he reiterated, pumping his fist. “Ngo hou sinzoeng.”
“You’re going to slug me in the balls if I don’t have sex with you?”
“Dang jathaa.” Holding up a finger, he dashed back upstairs.
Malmquist noticed a message on the tunic:
WE ARE IN TROUBLE
THEYRE FIREBOMBING US
AFRAID TO STAY OR LEAVE
“WHAT’S GOING ON?” he wrote back.
Mason returned, holding up a tube of some kind of cream. “Sehoengjau.”
Placing his thumbs at his temples, Mason expanded both hands over his head like a clown’s tease. “Luk, zidou maa?”
“You’re making fun of me?”
“I am looking at you.”
Mason pointed to an image of a deer’s antlers printed on the tube. “Luk.”
“Oh, you mean a deer. Why a deer? What is this stuff? Really, I have no idea what’s going on.”
He guided Malmquist onto the bed and spread his legs.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Smothering his fingers with the silken contents, he began to work them into Malmquist’s anus, first one, then two, before slowly, inexorably, as gracefully as a snake as thick as an arm, the whole hand slid in up to the wrist. Mason slowly pumped while Malmquist moaned. Then he noticed Delilah’s response on the tunic:
MY WINDOW IS GONE
WHAT DO I DO?
A young woman appeared at Ray’s door and asked Mason, “Nei jiu lau geinoi aa? Ngodei jau haakwu.”
“Hey, can she come over here and help? Hold that up in front of me so I can write on it.”
After some confusion she figured out she was to bring the tunic before Malmquist. On it he wrote: “CAN YOU HOLD ON TILL NIGHT THEN SLIP OUT? THE FENCE HOLE SOUTH NEAR EXPRESSWAY.”
“Vidi, vici — “
”Veni,” completed the parrot. Cornelius had arrived as well and squatted at Malmquist’s side.
“Shouldn’t it be ‘veni, vidi, vici’?”
“I saw, I conquered, I came. Standard greeting. Polite acknowledgement when chancing upon folks caught in flagrante.”
“Ouch! Slow down, will you? I’m not used to this. Will you please ask him why he is doing this to me?”
“You’re in the hands of a pro. He must have taken one look at you and knew you needed it.”
“Keoi seoijiu peidung ge singhong wai,” said Mason.
“He says your body was screaming for passive sex.”
“You have it done to you without worrying who’s doing it.”
“I have to say he’s good-looking enough.”
“He’s Belinda’s sister.”
“The waitress in the Heartland? No kidding.”
“What’s the cream on his hand?”
“Oh, that’s musk oil. You know, from deer. A lubricant.”
Cornelius knelt down next to Malmquist and settled his scrotum sack on Malmquist’s shoulder. His lengthy tattooed member flopped across his chest and was within easy reach of his mouth.
“Are you gay too?” asked Malmquist.
“Ah, a word long out of use. There are no sexual divisions between people anymore. We’re equisexual. You offer yourself freely to anyone without prejudice.”
“Do I have to agree?”
“As long as you — ”
“cooperate,” said the parrot.
Two more women appeared in Ray’s doorway. “Neidei jigu mong ng mong aa?”
“Ngodei zikhak zau jiu jyunsing zo,” Mason told them.
“He’s keeping the customers waiting?”
“Dang ngo jyunsing keoi laa,” said one of the new arrivals, as she stepped onto the bed, pulled up her tunic and prepared to straddle Malmquist.
“See? She’s going to finish you off. Take your time. There’s no rush,” said Cornelius.
“Aa, yat bin!” said the girl holding up Malmquist’s tunic.
They all turned toward the tunic. In place of the usual writing was an image of a burning fire.
“Nigo hai jatgo fozuk ge singsi maa?” said Mason. He had withdrawn his fist from Malmquist’s extremity.
“Wow,” said Malmquist. “It’s so realistic. The flames are moving. It’s a city on fire. Chicago’s burning.”
“Must be the Great Chicago Fire of 2060,” said Cornelius.
“It’s a message from Delilah.”
“We’ve got a new arrival from New Gary, Chief. A girl.”
“I’ll get to her in a minute. This suspect is taking longer than usual. Hey, Ramirez, maybe you can help. She doesn’t speak a word of English. Or she’s bluffing. Can you figure out what language she’s speaking? Doesn’t sound like Spanish to me but maybe it is.”
“She don’t look Mexican. Es usted de México?” he asked the beautiful blonde with eyes as clear as ice. For a detainee, she wore an oddly impersonal expression.
“De dónde es usted?”
“Crees que no eres inteligente?”
“She says she thinks she’s not smart.”
“That does sound like a kind of retarded form of Spanish. Do you think she’s making it up as she goes along?”
“I can understand her but it’s not Spanish.”
“What is it? Dago talk?”
“You mean Italian? Don’t think so. Well, maybe it is. Eres italiano?”
“How’s she going to understand you if she’s Italian and you’re speaking to her in Spanish?”
“I think it’s the same word. De qué ciudad eres?”
“Vere ego non intellego.”
“Yep, she must be retarded.”
“She used the word ‘ego.’ Isn’t that Latin?”
“Yeah, it means conceited. Now she’s saying she’s conceited? Where are you from? Mexico? Italy? Rome?”
“Venio a Roma.”
“Oh, you’re from Rome, are you. Dumb, blond and conceited. Wherever the hell you’re from, how did you ever hook up with Malmquist?”
Another cop entered. “Chief, the girl we picked up a while ago admits knowing Malmquist but other than that isn’t talking. She does say she’s looking for a blonde named Attica. This wouldn’t be the gal, would it?”
“Bring her in.”
“Oh, Attica, there you are,” exclaimed Delilah as she was led in.
“Mi carissima!” said Attica, standing up.
“They say you’re involved in the Malmquist affair. What’s your role in all this?” asked the Chief.
“She’s innocent, I can tell you that. She got caught up in this and doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s from Ancient Rome.”
“You’re kidding,” he grinned.
“Well, she speaks Latin, doesn’t she?”
“Miss, she’s a suspect in a triple abduction and murder, and you’re a fugitive pedophile,” said the cop.
“I told you I have no idea what all this is about, nor does she. There’s no way she could have cooperated because she doesn’t speak English and she doesn’t even know what a pedophile is. And I don’t believe Jeff shot anybody.”
“Your good old friend Malmquist and this Roman gal here broke into a home at gunpoint and attempted to abduct the family’s daughter but were surprised by the parents. There was a struggle. He shot and killed a boy the two of them had kidnapped and then escaped with another boy they had kidnapped. She got left behind.”
“Yef non occidit illum puerum,” said Attica.
“Who was killed?” asked Delilah. “Gunther?”
“Tuus puer occisus est!”
“Gunther’s dead? No! How?” cried Delilah.
“Alter puer occidit puerum!” gesticulated Attica.
“See! It wasn’t Jeff who killed the boy. It was the other boy who killed him. Jeff would never kill anyone.”
“But he disappeared with the boy. Do you have any idea where they might have gone? Hiding out at your place, perhaps?”
“I just came from there.”
“We know that.”
“Do you officers have any idea what’s happening? We are being attacked by you. My building was firebombed. Someone blasted into my apartment through the window.”
“Where did you get the FN P90?”
“The submachine gun you had with you.”
“Oh, that. An obese teenage boy. Younger than me. He was the one shooting into my apartment. But friendly fire got him first. His dead body was half hanging inside my basement window and blood was streaming out of his mouth — ”
“You’d better hope it wasn’t you who shot him.”
“Check the bullet in his body when you get around to it. I couldn’t get out of my apartment. The building was on fire and the smoke poured in when I opened the door. His body was blocking the window. The only way I could escape was by pulling him all the way through. He must have weighed 300 pounds. I don’t know how I managed. Finally I dragged him through and that’s when I saw where he’d been shot — in the ass! I crawled out the window and ran for my life. Can you blame me for grabbing his gun and trying to save myself? There’s a hole in the fence in a hidden place where there’s no shooting going on. I figured Chicago was now safer than New Gary. Why are we being attacked anyway?”
“Where were you planning to take the aircab?”
“To the address where I was told I could find Attica.”
“You knew that was futile, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I knew I would be tracked but I had a window of opportunity. Or I thought I did. It rejected my payment but started flying anyway and brought me — ”
“Right here. All pedophiles are entitled to a free tour of Chicago’s major attraction — the Pedo Unit. We want you to tell us what you know about the Malmquist abduction.”
“I told you guys I know nothing about it. I spoke with Jeff just yesterday and all he said was he was in trouble in Chicago. He didn’t give any details.”
“Where is he?”
“Chicago. Fifty-five years in the future.”
“Don’t test our patience.”
“What is your relationship with him, anyway?” said the Chief.
“You realize, don’t you, that he’s a middle-aged man and you’re a minor?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Were you two in a sexual relationship?”
“None of your business.”
“Don’t forget where you are, Delilah Power. As a convicted pedophile, you have no rights.”
“So what? Go ahead and send me back to New Gary. You can’t scare me.”
“No, we’ll just keep you here. Forever. No one will ever know. We can do anything to you.”
“Chief, the crowd outside is getting a bit unruly,” said a third cop who had entered.
“Crowd? I thought it was just a group of them.”
“Yeah. Looks to be about a thousand now. And they’re all heavily armed.”
“Damn it. What do they want?”
“They’re demanding we turn all pedophiles in our custody over to them.”
“Should we burn them?”
“Yeah. Keep it less lethal, though. I thought the Commissioner was dealing with this.”
“He and the Mayor, Sir, they got their hands full with all the fires and the riots going on.”
“Let me take care of these two first.”
When the cops had left, the Commissioner turned back to Delilah. “You and your little cabal have created one helluva mess.”
“Chicago’s up in arms.”
He slammed the table with his fist. “Because of the triple abduction and homicide carried out by your armed-and-dangerous boyfriend or whatever he is and his foreign agent here!”
“Abductio et homicidium?” said Attica.
“Yes, homicide. So she does understand English. Do you admit to the abduction and homicide?” he asked Attica.
“Admitto? Non admitto!”
“I’m telling you it’s impossible she could have committed murder. Neither did Jeff. He was framed and it was that other boy. I’m sure of it. And if you do anything to me, Inspector Melynchuk will find out, because he’s in charge of us in New Gary. In fact I’m going to contact him right now.”
“Oh, my god, the naivety. You think a two-bit cop in New Gary is going to be of any help to you?”
Delilah traced out the words “INSP MELYNCHUK I NEED NEW ROME IN CHINESE. DELILAH.”
“What are you doing, playing with yourself?”
“I’m sending him a message.”
“What is that, some kind of pedo code?”
“Wait.” Delilah took the new travel tunic out of her pocket and handed it to Attica. “Here, put this on.”
Attica took off her T-shirt and skirt and slipped the tunic over her naked body.
“Oh, so you’re putting on a strip show for me now?” said the Chief. “Maybe we should take her outside where she can have a real audience. That’ll pacify them. In fact both of you putting on a show for them might just send them on their way.”
“HURRY PLEASE INSPECTOR,” Delilah wrote on herself.
“Hey, can I have some fun playing magical crayons on your titties too?” he said, dragging his finger back and forth across Delilah’s chest and poking her breasts. “Oh, yeah, baby, you like playing with yourself? Can I play too? Ooh, I like it, such big soft baby flesh — ”
“Stop it!” Delilah took off her outer tunic. “Attica, put this on too.”
As soon as Attica had the tunic in place, a message appeared on it:
“Yeah, baby, give it to me! And braless yet. Look at that bounce,” the Chief said.
As he continued to rough up her bosom, she started to trace over the characters on Attica’s chest. He pulled her hand away and placed it on his groin. “Hey, don’t I get any respect? Don’t write on her, write on me.”
“Please, officer, let me finish writing my message, and you can do anything you want with me. I promise,” she told him. “I’ll even sleep with you if you want.”
“Are you trying to bribe me? You know everything you’re saying is being recorded.”
“No, it isn’t. Otherwise you wouldn’t be compromising yourself with a minor.”
“All right, let’s just keep things nice and quiet, baby. How about you just give me a little strip show like she did and you can finish your message.”
Delilah pulled her tunic off her shoulder and exposed a breast.
“Yeah, show it to me, baby, all of it. Ooh, yeah.” He tweaked her nipple and yanked the tunic down off the other breast. “Fucking show it to me baby! All of it, you dirty cunt! You think you can fuck with me? Do you know who I am?”
His tweaking grew more spirited, until he was tugging at them violently and slapping them. He ripped off her tunic and began tearing it to shreds.
“What are you doing?” Delilah screamed.
“What is this fucking thing you think can be used as a communication device? Who do think you’re fooling?” he yelled. He slapped her in the face and knocked her down. “You think you can fuck with me!”
“Desine! Noli eam battuere!” shouted Attica.
“You telling me what to do, you fucking Dago whore?”
He punched Attica in the face and tore off her tunics as well. As he proceeded to shred them, she grabbed a long piece off the floor, looped it around the cop’s neck and pulled. He fell down, his legs kicking as he struggled to grasp at the cord. Attica sat on his chest and tightened it, while Delilah sat on his legs behind her, placed the front patches of the tunic on his torso and traced out the characters.
The three of them vanished.
* * *
Forthcoming January 2018:
The Kitchens of Canton, a novel