4. He’s Got a Plan

Duke put his elbows on the table and leaned in toward me. “No point in lying, Fatman,” he said.

“Lying? I barely said hello.”

“I know you got spiders under your skin. Maybe I put them there. Unintentionally, but all the same. What I want now is, you’re happy.”

“Spiders?”

“Okay, forget about the spiders. Happiness. What life’s all about, right?”

“I don’t know. You got other things. Responsibility. Making a contribution.”

“Listen. You feel good because you think you got something on your mind other than old number one. But it’s still about old number one. Self regard. Wholly-owned subsidiary of happiness.”

“Mother Teresa, she’d put it that way?”

“We’ve argued about it,” said Duke.

“You argued with Mother Teresa?”

“The underworld. You’d be surprised.”

“But Mother Teresa?”

“She had issues. Anyway. How’s the wine?”

I gave the glass a swirl and drank. From Duke I got an expectant look.

“What is this?”

“Let’s just say you can’t buy it off the shelf.”

“I’m no connoisseur…”

“I know.”

“I’m not a total low-brow.”

Duke shrugged.

I looked down into the glass. My tongue went numb. Thoughts occurred. Not the usual slow, waddling procession. A flood, a tsunami. No sensible order. At my mother’s breast. A field of corn swaying in the breeze. Doris. Her lips. Dollar bills blowing down the street. A spinning sensation. Time, unmoored. Too much to register.

Eventually I was able to mutter, “Duke, what’s in this?”

“France by way of a Swiss lab.”

“It can’t be legal.”

“It’s not illegal. But that’s not the point.”

“What is the point?” My tongue felt like a slab of rawhide.

“Dopamine enhancement. Maybe a touch of MDMA. Quick release formulation. Opens the door. Your feelings stroll through.”

“You drugged me.”

“That’s a little dramatic. I’m helping you.”

“I asked for help?”

“Here’s the problem. Your unhappiness makes me unhappy.”

“It’s about you.”

“Let’s not split hairs. You. Doris. Try being honest.”

My feelings. Yes. The door opened. My feelings strolled. They jostled. They turned into a mob, a mob in the street. They flipped cars. They burned buildings. I took Duke’s face in my hands. His skin felt like refrigerated dough but I didn’t care. I pressed my eyes against the shoulder of his suit. It was caked with the dust of the underworld. I didn’t care about that either. Then the tears started. Sobs. Snotty, choking wails.

“Give me the glass,” Duke said, prying it out of my fingers.

“I don’t… I just… I am…”

“I know. I know,” Duke said. “I made a mess. You’re a mess. Lucky for both of us, I got a plan.”

Tomorrow: I got my answer. What was the question?

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