81. Somebody Wasn’t Clued In

“Let me introduce you two,” I said.

“Brimsnod?” Doris asked. “I should call you that?”

“Unless you got a better idea.”

They weren’t off to a great start, but I wasn’t sure it mattered.

Brimsnod wore her red power suit. She looked like Hillary Clinton, if Hillary’s cheeks had been clamped in a vice and squeezed. She bustled ahead of us in the underworld dust.

“You heard?” I asked. “Reporters. By now they got the house surrounded.”

“Perfect,” Brimsnod said. “Part of the marketing plan. Word of mouth. Underground buzz. Strategic leaks. Lifestyle bloggers, that kind of thing. Then, bang, viral. Not that you can put it on a schedule. But inevitable.”

“What?” Doris said. “Marketing plan? Bloggers?”

“Sounds like somebody wasn’t clued in,” Brimsnod said.

I couldn’t see her face, but the nasty smile was easy to imagine.

“No need to get into everything right now,” I said. “Let’s hold on until we find Duke.”

“That’s going to make it right?” Doris asked.

“Brimsnod,” I said. “How long ’til we get there?”

She shrugged.

We made the usual underworld slog. Time, space, all unhinged down there. What’s an hour? What’s a mile? You’re wandering. That gray glow, the gray dust, the indeterminate dimension of the space — how far up is the ceiling? how distant are the walls? — in total it removes you from, hmm, a lot. It’s not that your mind goes blank. The distinction between inside and outside your skull grows hazy. The past and the present blur together. Your thoughts drift into the realm of regret. The nature of the place, I take it. The underworld isn’t about close consideration of the things you’ve done right in life. Exactly the opposite. You get started and you’ve opened a door to a tsunami of remorse.

Brimsnod kicked up the standard low cloud of dust. As always, figures appeared, squatting in the dust by themselves, yapping in small circles, acknowledging us sometimes with a nod or a limp wave, sometimes ignoring us completely.

“What’s that?” Doris asked. She pointed at two opposing gangs, squared off against each other at each end of a court scraped clean down to the bedrock.

“Shuffleboard,” said Brimsnod. “National pastime of the underworld.”

“Wait, I know those guys,” I said.

“The seniors?” Brimsnod asked.

“No the kids in the hoodies. The ones who carried off Duke when he died on the river bank.”

“Angels of death,” Brimsnod said. “To go poetic. Not really angels, but you get the idea. They get around.”

“Lads!” I called.

The tallest kid served as their main mouthpiece. They all wore their pants low, their sneakers loose, their hoods up and pulled far forward. I never got much of a look at their faces. They were eyeballs mostly, gleaming teeth. I assumed they were kids, but there was no way to be sure.

“Yo, Squire Fatman,” the tall kid said. They spoke all the languages of the Earth. Ebonics. Scholarly English. A note of affectionate mockery, I chose to believe, with me.

“You made the downward scene without our intervention.”

“Just visiting, gentlemen. You remember Doris, right?”

“From the banks of the River Mississippi, Your Obesity. Your significantly better half. No forgetting.”

“This is your home court?”

“We always win, no matter where we play.”

“Carry on, fellows. Brimsnod waits for no man.”

“Chuckles for you, Large One. We wait for no man either. We’ll be seeing you.”

“Not too soon, I hope.”

“Hope all you want, El Grande!”

I chose not to think about that too deeply.

Though of course I should have.

Monday: Give me some space, girl

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