-a DAVID BRATH novel –
May 20, 2020
In one hand Dane Roberts carried a green, translucent plastic bag filled with bright orange permissions and in the other hand he clutched a bottle of Blue Riband gin through the packed streets near Boudhanath temple. His watch read 11:32 AM. He’d been away from his flat for twenty-six minutes. It was time to return and lay low for another few days. Such was life living underground on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
Back in his small, third story flat, he paused in the mirror studying himself. His short cropped bleach blond hair and smooth face was far different from his dark long hair and full beard of six months ago. And his one-hundred-sixty-five pound physique was now twenty-five pounds lighter than it had been in a decade. He removed his sunglasses, placing them on the small kitchen counter, turning away from the mirror. He opened the bottle of Riband, half filling a tall cylindrical blue plastic cup with gin. After peeling a permission, he squeezed its juice into his cup, clouding the gin. He sat down on his small sofa-bed with his gin and two permission. He reached for the brass Buddha figurine over his bed, pinching the blue cup between his knees. Removing a plate from the bottom of the Buddha he pulled out a silver pipe and a ball of hash wrapped in tin foil. After packing his pipe with a pinch of brown putty he leaned back and smoked casually, while sipping his gin. A half hour later he was reading Proust, slipping sections of cool permission into his mouth. “We become moral when we are unhappy.” He had underlined that sentence the night before. He smiled.
“I needed that, Marcel.” He turns the page.
June 14, 2016
Dane walked out of the Missoula County Public Library heading toward the bike rack, his pack slung over his left shoulder.
7-33-49. He unlocked his bike.
A middle-aged runner with sunglasses and hat smiled at him. Shoulder length blonde hair sprayed down from under her hat.
“Happy summer, Dane. Meet me at my house in ten minutes, okay?” Amelia turned jogging towards Higgins Street.
Dane got on his bike. What the hell? He hadn’t seen Amelia Townsend since graduation two months ago after the kiss. He had her as a professor for two years during his undergraduate degree and Amelia had been his advisor for two years while pursuing his Master’s. The flirtatious banter had been thick in the air between the two for years hanging over them like a gathering thunderstorm and finally culminated in a passionate kiss the night before graduation during a late night stroll after meeting for drinks with a few other students. The next day Dane texted Amelia to no avail. He texted again two days later and the silence was deafening. Dane got the hint. She was married and older. It would be complicated. He moved on from the kiss but missed her for who she was in his life. A close friend and an amazing philosophy professor.
He biked along side her. “That hello and invitation was short and sweet.”
“Don’t bike with me.” She glanced at her watch. “Go a different way. Be at the house in ten minutes.” Amelia turned down Pattee Street, staring straight ahead.”
Whatever. Dane stayed on Front Street. Screw her. He turned and biked over the Higgins Street Bridge before turning onto 3rd Street. It was a kiss for Christ’s sake. You kissed me.
The warm summer evening air felt good on Dane’s face. He loved Missoula in the summer. So much daylight, warm summer breezes, plenty of craft breweries. He was going to miss this place. It had been home for the last six years. He had arrived as a freshman from Oregon and was leaving in a month to pursue his Doctorate in Philosophy from MIT in Boston. And it was thanks to Amelia that he got into MIT. She was close with the Dean of the Philosophy Department there, and well, Dane knew that was likely worth more than his grades and MCAT scores.
He rode another block before turning onto Orange Street then turning back on 4rth. He glanced at his watch. Okay. I’ll stop by. But just to say thanks and good-bye. Life’s too short for bullshit.
Four minutes later Dane coasted down Amelia’s short paved driveway. The house was a 1920’s bungalow. A gray clapboard, story and a half house. Quaint and tidy with a little Missoula funkiness. Prayer flags hanging across the top of the porch. A “LEGALIZE IT” placard leaned against the flower bed’s rock retaining wall.
Dane dismounted his bike walking it between the house and unattached garage. He leaned it against the side of the house, heading toward the back porch.
“In here, Dane. Bring your damn bike.”
It was Jack’s voice, Amelia’s husband. Dane snapped his head toward the dark small side doorway and peered inside.
June 14, 2016
“Amelia’s not back from her run yet. Have a seat.”
“You said bring my bike?” Dane looked into the dark workshop. It reeked of pot.
“Yeah. Nosy neighbors so to speak.”
Dane walked in, rolling his bike.
Jack flicked on the lights. “Shut the door.”
Jack sat on a small torn green corduroy upholstered sofa, holding a PBR. His feet were up resting on a block of wood, wearing cheap flip-flops. He wore faded Carhart jeans. His t-shirt way gray, exposing tawny, tan strong forearms. The sofa was sprinkled with sawdust and small wood chips.
Dane shut the door leaning his bike against the wall.
“Have a seat.” Jack waved toward an old aluminum framed lawn chair next to a standing air compressor. “Beer?”
“I’m good, thanks.” Dane sat down, studying Jack. He was barrel chested, a man hewn from wood. His salt and pepper hair was thick and handsomely tousled. At twenty-two years older than Amelia he appeared all of sixty-four but with no signs of yielding to age, only growing stronger.
“Relax, Dane. You look like a high-strung philosophy student in over his head chasing a Phd.”
“That’s a vote of confidence.”
“Shit. You’ll love Boston. You’ll get your degree. And you’ll probably get down Amelia’s pants before too long. You have life by the balls.” Jack raised his beer can, smiling.
“Is that why I’m here?” Dane shifted hiss ass to the front edge of the lawn chair, his elbows on his thighs.
“Not really. I’m just clearing the air. Amelia’s her own person. Relax about it. If you two end up fucking, know that I’m not going to fill your skull full of lead.” Jack sipped his beer. “The first kiss is the gateway drug to more ass. I know from experience. You have more important shit to worry about. That’s all.”
Dane rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Uuhh, okay. I wasn’t expecting to chat about this. Maybe I will have a beer.”
Jack laughed, pointing to the small fridge near Dane’s bike. “Help yourself.”
Dane stepped over a pile of sawdust, opening the fridge. He grabbed an Eddy Out, a local pale ale. He stepped back over the pile of sawdust and settled again into the lawn chair. He took a long draw from the Eddy Out.
“I read your thesis – twice.” Jack holds up his free hand, forming the peace sign.
“You have too much time on your hands.”
Jack looks around his dis-shelved woodshop. The small timber frame shed he’s making for a friend who owns a coffee shop is taking forever. Like all his projects. But it’s meditative and he needs it. He hand drills his mortises, and cleans them with a chisel and uses a handsaw and chisel for his tenons. He learned long ago power tools do a better job and do it much quicker. But Jack opted out of hurry when he began writing seriously in his early twenties and learned to embrace a slow cadence in life. What was the fucking hurry? At the time he was programming for Microsoft before programming or Microsoft was a household name – when he had to justify to his parents that tinkering with computers wasn’t a waste of time, it was the future. Dropping out of Cal Poly Tech his second semester soured his conservatives parents from Stockton. And even more so when the once promising college student moved to Seattle, grew a beard, spent his days in a worn down warehouse, developing operating systems for computers. His parents didn’t know what an operating system was, but they didn’t like it. It sounded suspicious. And they sure as hell didn’t like his live-in girlfriend, Barbara. She too was a college drop-out and spent her days selling homemade bread and painting. Both Jack and Barbara were doing drugs. Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid, just knew it.
After two years, the surprise was Barbara. Her paintings gradually began to sell. And soon she was a small ‘thing’ in the art world. In 1978 her abstract work, No, sold for $62,000. An unheard of amount for a starving artist in the non-art world of Seattle. And after the sale of her second high-priced work, Jack finally took Barbara’s advice. He pursued what few lost souls in the dark universe ever have the balls to pursue – he wrote poetry. At least when he wasn’t high or drunk or fucking Barbara or one of her friends. A decade later Barbara left Jack for a sculptor from Durban, South Africa. But Barbara was nice, too nice to Jack. She left him with one last roll around for the ages and a cashier’s check for $50,000 to continue writing. She loved his poetry. She really did but even a beautiful string of words could only go so far and Niels was smart as hell, smelled fresh and new and great with his hands. He was a sculptor after all.
Two months after his last fling with Barbara, Jack landed in Missoula at the beck and call of his friend Oscar who quietly made a lot of money selling weed when he wasn’t teaching aspiring lawyers Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure at the University’s law school. After a month of living on Oscar’s sofa, Jack decided to roll up his sleeves and give Missoula a shot. At least for a year, and see what happens.
Soon after he found his calling washing dishes. His ideal hours were 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM. He didn’t mind working weekends because he could still go out after work. Mondays through Thursdays served as his productive writing time. Fridays through Sundays, not so much. Nine months in, he used some of Barbara’s good bye-fuck money and bought a 1920’s bungalow, with an in-law apartment above the garage. In 1988 a decent house could still be had in Missoula for under $50,000. In short time, Jack had fallen into a comfortable routine. He had all the work he wanted without an ounce of stress, to pay for food, bills, and gas money with a little extra left to throw into savings on top of the $17,000 left over in change from his home purchase. He had rental income and essentially a free place to live in the in-law apartment. He found himself in a strange space in the universe, defying the laws of poetic entropy. He washed dishes, wrote poetry, enjoyed the single life at thirty-four, owned a home and saved money.
Five years later he had four books of poetry published by University of Wisconsin Press. He completed a three-month residence at Madison and hated it but pretended to love it as he walked away with a $7,500 grant to keep up the poetry. Three years later he was getting picked up by some anthologies and had a reputation as a hard living, dish washing, Montana Bohemian poet man. It didn’t hurt that he was damn good looking and kept himself in shape. There was something about the manly bullshit that sold. The more rugged he seemed, the more he was read and recognized. Maybe it was the artificial contradiction that was the draw. Muscle and poetry traditionally didn’t meld. He wasn’t supposed to be a poet but was. The hard living he was known for really wasn’t as hard as the narrative but it went well with the image so Jack rode it for all it was worth.
By the time he was forty-seven he had been around the poetry block a time or two. Jack Wrath was a goddamn American Poet. He had received numerous prizes, nationally and internationally. He had readings in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, London, Moscow, Munich, Santiago, Sydney. He was frequently published in the New Yorker, Harper’s, (name more).
And at 53 he did it. It came as a fucking surprise to say the least. He received a phone call from his agent, Beth Hayworth. His collection of poems, short stories, and novels over thirty years had won him the Noble Prize for Literature. When he was nominated six month earlier, he had told NPR he had “about pissed myself with the news.” After he won, he told NPR. “You don’t want to know what happened, when I actually won the !@#$%^& thing.” Mona Frazen, the interviewer laughed of course, a brilliant but succinct elite laugh, followed by a long sigh – dripping overtly with, oooh, that silly Jack Wrath.
Jack rode the Nobel wave for three years, then burnt out. He was done talking about how great his writing was. He was done having other people, who had read very little of his work, discuss how he wrote with a surgeons scalpel, carefully dissecting the American dream, exposing to the world nothing but a rotting corpse.
He retreated back to his bungalow on 3rd Street and went upstairs, and through his bedroom, and through the closet and into his private office where he kept his secret that the world knew nothing about. No one except his partner of seven years and now his new wife. Amelia Townsend, professor of environmental philosophy at the University. She knew his secret but no one else.
Jack sipped his beer, studying the young Dane Roberts, Amelia speaks so much about. “Yeah, not as much time as you might think.”
“You’re probably sick of this question but are you still writing, then?”
Jack finished his beer, before clearing his throat. “It’s gets fucking old, but don’t worry about it. Yeah, I still write and do a lot of other shit.”
Dane looked at the timbers lying across the sawhorses in the work shop. “I had no idea you built stuff.”
“I’ve never been a golfer so, you know?” He watched Dane drink his beer, because the pretty boy philosopher wanna-be didn’t know what else to do sitting across from a curmudgeon of a Nobel Prize winner, a guy whose wife he wants to screw. At least it shows some balls. Too many normal nobody’s are too politically correct for affairs anymore. “So I have hobbies. One of them is timberframes. Simple stuff really. Small rectangular building is about all I’m good for but they’re fun.” Jack drank more beer. “But Amelia asked you to come by today to speak about another hobby of mine and hers. Amelia is convinced you’re the right candidate,” he paused watching Dane. “And so am I.”
“Hhhmmm,” stammered Dane. “What is it?”
Jack placed his beer on the side table, placing his hands behind his head. “You know—”
Jack gazed at the door. “It’s open.”
Amelia squeezed in from the early summer evening. She clutched her hat in her hand, shutting the door behind her. “You made it?” She smiled at Dane.
“Yeah. I got here half a beer ago.” He held up his can.
She examined her GPS watch. “Sorry. I ran about 1.8 more miles after I saw you. A little longer than I expected.”
She walked over to the sofa and plopped down next to Jack. “What are you two chatting about?” She smiled at Jack, then at Dane.
“I was just telling Dane about our hobby.”
“Oh—that was fast.”
“I haven’t said anything yet – was just starting.”
Amelia leaned back, crossing her bare arms. “Okay, Dane, I’ll cut to the chase.” She took a sip of PBR. “We want you to help us with a favor.”
Dane didn’t know where this was going. He finished his beer. “Like what?”
“Help us start a revolution.” Amelia smiled.
June 14, 2016
Dane ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair. “You’re shitting me, right?”
“No.” Jack folded his arms across his chest.
Dane looked at Amelia.
“We’re not. We’d like to bring you in.”
Dane laughed. “A revolution? You two? That’s all I need to know—I’m in.”
“Don’t be a jack ass. Hear us out.” Jack stood, walked to the fridge, grabbed a beer and tossed it to Dane. He returned to the sofa, a beer in each hand, giving one to Amelia.
She cracked it open, taking a long draw, thirsty from her run. She wiped her mouth with two fingers. “We’d like to brief you this evening and then if you’re interested we’ll get started tomorrow. If not, we never want contact with you again. Okay?”
Dane set the beer on the floor, not opening it. He stared at the concrete floor rubbing his forehead. “Jesus.”
Jack put his feet back on the wood block.
“Give us thirty minutes.” Amelia held up her beer.
Dane looked at Jack. A man he feared somewhat over the years, ever since he met him when Dane was an undergraduate and a man he was envious of—his intellect, his looks, his stamina, his fuck off attitude towards the world, his beautiful wife. He studied Amelia. His professor, his advisor, his muse, his crush, his mentor. Smarter than Jack, but didn’t feel the need to showboat it. Confident, smart, fit, beautiful, and so nice.
“Please,” said Amelia.
Dane picked up his beer, leaned back, and sighed. “This better be good.”
June 14, 2016
“We trust you, or you wouldn’t be here.” Amelia sat on the edge of the sofa. “As I said earlier, if you want no part of this – fine. But don’t ever try to contact us again and of course never talk about this meeting to anyone.”
“If you do we’ll kill you. No shit.”
Amelia gave Jack a look. “Just keep it easy and forget about us if you never come back, okay? I’m not worried about you talking.”
“But if you do, we’ll kill you.” Jack stared at Dane.
“Your revolution will be safe with me.” Dane picked up his beer, opening it. “I’m too young to take a bullet in the back of the head for the cause.”
“Anyways, if you decide to come back tomorrow, then you’re committed and there’s no turning back.”
“Or we’ll kill you.”
Dane looked at Amelia.
“Actually we might. Or someone might.”
Dane shook his head. “Jesus. You know you two sound fucking crazy?”
“Yeah, I think we do sound nuts but you need to know the basic ground rules.” Amelia took a hairband off her wrist, using it to put her shoulder length blonde hair into a ponytail. “We’ve never killed anyone. Don’t want you to be the first.” She smiled.
“Don’t mention it,” said Jack. “So here’s what’s going on. If you commit, you’ll be our courier. Meaning, you’ll be a jack-of-all trades. A lot of analysis work but plenty of grunt work too. You’ll be need-to-know basis only.”
“But you’ve gotta stir the shit in the pot. With your fucking hands. Show us you’re the real deal, or else just fuck it and go away forever.” Jack waved his right hand, while draining his beer with his left.
Dane looked at Amelia.
“Jack means go monkey wrench the system. Be smart. Do it solo. Don’t get caught. Come back and report. If not,” Amelia shook her head, “then you never see us again. Ever.”
“What am I suppose to monkey-wrench exactly?”
“You figure it out.”
“But it’s gotta be the real deal,” said Jack, crumpling his beer can. “Political graffiti on the side walk isn’t what we’re looking for. We don’t expect you to knock out Big Brother in your first fight but you better surprise the shit out of him and come back with some treasure.”
Dane stared at Jack. “Money?”
“Lots of it,” sneered Jack. “We don’t want a treatise on a 21st century revolution. We want an example of how to get shit done from the shadows.”
“And you think I’ll do something?”
“ I dunno. Maybe? Maybe not?”
“How long do I have?”
“About two months,” answered Amelia.
“Yeah, sixty days-ish.”
“And not around here. We don’t want any attention on Missoula.”
“Where it makes sense—where there’s an opportunity.” Jack opened another beer. “That’s the problem with the electorate of this country. It’s not that half of them are dumb—they all are. They don’t take advantage of opportunity. Right now over half of the country can’t stomach the president, his hynchmen, or his greedy corporate agenda. So what do they do? They ‘resist’.” Jack laughed. “That’s right, they fucking ‘resist’. That’s what they call it. And just what the hell does that mean? They post memes on Facebook and march in their towns and cities holding signs demonstrating how engaged they are and how out of touch the president is. They forget that revolutions suck. They’re hard. They usually fail. They’re bloody and sad and don’t happen for two hours on a sunny Saturday while holding a latte in one hand and a protest sign in the other. They forget that revolutions don’t come with 401K plans or health insurance or massages. Revolutions are fuck’n ugly and shitty and goddamn hard to ignite even when the system is soaked in gasoline. They are a stick shoved up your hairy ass.”
Dane stared at Jack. “How do you know? You’ve never started one—never been in one.”
“Because I’m honest and I read and I listen to people who have. Just like you. How the fuck do you know pushing a baby through a vagina hurts? You know it does, but you sure as hell have never done it.”
Dane sipped his beer.
“My point is this ‘resistance’ movement is commercialized bullshit and radical wanna-bees masturbating. It sells t-shirts and coffee mugs but it does squat to change the system. They’re pissed. They’re waiting for this fuck-wad of a president to come off the rails. Instead of waiting they should fucking destroy the rails. Now. But they don’t want to sacrifice to do it. They want to be cool and part of the crowd but not risk anything. Not fuck anything. Not hurt anything. Nothing illegal. All above board and proper.” Jack sighed. “What a goddamn shit-show.”
“Yeah, it is. So why bother? Why not just leave. Head north to Canada, go to Chile. Whatever flavor you want?”
“We thought about that,” said Amelia. “It’s tempting but it’s not us. I guess it’s vain but we feel we’re meant for this. If not us, who? Trite, I know but who dammit? I wanted this when I was twenty. I fantasized about it. Not in any concrete way but conceptually. A revolution was always alluring.” She looked at Jack, then back at Dane. “And now it’s imminent for the simple fact that I say so. That’s empowerment.”
Dane finished his beer, leaned back in the lawn chair. “What the hell does a revolution mean in 21st century America—storming DC with a hundred thousand armed revolutionaries?”
“Shit.” Jack rubbed his beard, staring at his timber frame project. “I wish. Our team doesn’t know how to smash a goddamn window, let alone stick a magazine into an assault rifle. We’re all fucking pansies when it comes to kicking ass and stepping out of line. We think smok’n dope in a hot tub and feeling up your friend’s wife is risky shit. We don’t even look at the goddamn stars anymore. We read about solar eclipses on Facebook, like the post, and call it good. We’re three generations deep into a trance of
It’s been nine months since the First Tuesday in November, RUBY, is what we called it – from the Stone’s song, Ruby Tuesday, and no one has heard from me until now. I’m the type of guy people ever thought would do thisIngrid Landvik’s heart raced.
Dane Roberts smiled after reading the text. “I’m passing thru. U around?”
RUBY was two-hundred-forty one days ago and I’ve been underground ever since. Big Brother didn’t take it so well. Pretty fucking pissed off, actually. I don’t want to romanticize all of it. It’s been bloody and death is sad and it sucks and the ripple effect is huge with all the lives death of a loved one ruins. A lot more people have died than I ever imagined, most of them innocent as hell and that keeps me up at all hours, dwelling on the suffering.
But I also loose a shit of sleep over all the bullshit that the media and the government keep spewing forth about what happened.
Dane Roberts studied the man in a faded Red Sox hat. “Ethan?”
“Ssshhh. Just follow me. We gotta talk.”
It was hot and smoky in Missoula. August in Montana means fire season. The smoke was from fires in British Columbia but the hot winds brought the smoke westward over the small, mountainous city along the Clark Fork River.
Dane owned a small software engineering firm. His company designed XXXX for solar panels and wind turbines. Seventeen years earlier he had studied Computer Science at the University of Montana, in Missoula. Dane like a handful of his college friends had decided to stick around Missoula and slug out a livelihood in the over-educated, under-paid college town. The nearby mountains, rivers, and quality craft breweries were worth a cut in pay from the rest of the world. Missoula was a great town to have just enough and watch the world spin out of control. Such a perspective, somehow made the beer taste better.
Ethan Johanssen had been an integral part of Dane’s college crowd. A rich kid from New York who studied philosophy and smoked a lot of weed. He was also an incredible snowboarder and one of the smartest and kindest people Dane had ever met.
Ethan walked a two blocks before entering The Joker – a dark casino and bar. Dane found Ethan, perched in the back, his back to the wall, his face in shadows. Dabe sat across from Ethan.
I’m stoned out of my fucking gourd, listening to Pink Floyd, hiding out in Kathmandu, drinking shitloads of coffee, wanting to blow my fucking brains out.
This is so not about Trump. If it were only that easy – like shooting the shit out of fish in a barrel. This country is like abusive parents, staring at their fucked up, spoiled, lying, violent kid, pissed at the kid that he’s such a dick and wondering why? This is about an American Dream pushed on its citizens that was a fucking lie from the get go. School teaches kids that America is the wealthiest nation on Earth because we are smarter and work harder and more innovative than the rest of the world. That God smiles and winks at us because we’re so fucking special.” Jack laughed.
“Trump didn’t just fall out of the sky. He fell from a cloud that’s been building ever since our last World War II murdering spree when we nuked the shit out of Japan. By damn geography and dumb ass luck, the United States found itself on top of the industrialized world after 1945.