A sailor goes on a voyage and takes a monkey with him. Once out to sea, they encounter a violent storm that capsizes and sinks their ship, leaving the crew (and the monkey) with no recourse but to swim for shore. But the crew - weary from their journey - cannot make it all the way and drown, leaving the monkey to fend for himself. A dolphin, however, comes along and - mistaking the monkey for a man - offers to carry him to shore (because, as everyone knows, dolphins are natural friends of men). When the dolphin arrives at the shores of Athens with the monkey on his back, he asks the monkey if he is an Athenian. The monkey says that not only is he an Athenian, but the son of a rich shipbuilder. When the dolphin asks, however, if he knows of Piraeus (the famous harbor in Athens), the monkey boasts that he is actually best friends with Piraeus, thinking that the dolphin meant a man of that name. Seeing the monkey’s guise uncovered thusly, the dolphin then drowned him in the water.
For starters, Theo was always confused by the notion that dolphins were man’s best friend. He thought that was dogs. Maybe it just meant dolphins and men were on good terms. Either way, Theo’s never seen dolphins do anything but jump really high and make funny noises.
Also, why a monkey? As he recalls, sailors out of Messina only needed two things for a long voyage: wine and dice. Maybe it was a sex thing.
Under the deep shadow of the olive tree outside his family’s farm, Theodoros’ teacher said the story was a parable. With the stink of goat piss and manure wafting from the nearby pens, he said that dishonesty, sooner or later, lands you in deep water.
Fast forward several hundred years. Theo sees that the monkey, his only mistake, was not knowing when to shut up. A lie can keep you alive.
Ask Theo about his background and he’ll tell you the truth: how he was born in a small town, traveled a lot, and worked several odd jobs before he found the one he’s at now.
Ask him how old he is and he‘ll say “thirty-eight”.
More than one and you’re just pushing it.
Right now, Theo is trying to remember any recent falsehoods he’s uttered. Something that would make the wrong people take notice. Something that might cause armed men in strange masks to point firearms at him.
There’s a loud pop and the driver’s side window spider-webs from the bullet’s impact. The angle it hits at sends it pinging up into the rearview mirror, shattering that as well and knocking it loose. Instinct makes Theo cover his head and dive sideways onto the passenger seat.
There’s a pause. No more shots. They must think he’s dead. Theo hears a car door open. He can’t stay here. Theo reaches for the passenger door’s handle.
An unholy choir of gunfire erupts. Windows shatter. Upholstery rends. Theo throws the passenger door open and heaves himself out of the car.
He’s nearly run over as the car in the right hand lane speeds off. Theo watches it barrel through the red light only to collide with another vehicle. Tires screech and metal squeals as two more instantly join the pile-up.
Theo huddles against the car, keeping below the windows for fear of any ricochets. The driver’s side tires blow out. The car shakes from the hail of bullets. For lack of anything else to do, a few people are screaming.
Theo wonders if anybody has bothered to call the cops. He also wonders how much longer his assailants will continue to shoot the now empty car.
The shooting stops again.
“Excuse me?” A voice. From the other side of the car. Theo hears multiple car doors opening.
“Mmhy mhhre mhu mhr!” Muffled. One of the masked guys.
“I couldn’t help but notice the minor apocalypse you’re visiting upon that vehicle…” the voice continues.
“Mhm’t mhme mmy mhmmer!” a second assailant attempts to threaten.
“I just wanted to extend my compliments. It’s nice work, for amateurs.”
“Mhmt’s mn mhe mhg?” another asks.
“The bag? Oh, just… things.”
Theo peeks over the rear of the car. Three of the masked guys have gotten out of the car while a fourth one covers them from the open sunroof. Their attention and their guns are now fixated upon the newcomer standing in the middle of the street: a tall, lean, ethnic-looking young guy dressed in browns and greens. Slung casually over his shoulder is an olive-green duffel bag that’s almost as big as him.
Theo wonders if he’s some kind of terrorist. Or a starving artist.
Maybe a starving terrorist artist.
Whatever he is, the guy casually approaches the semi-circle of potential ballistic death now facing him. With three handguns and an automatic rifle leveled at this head, he asks: “So, what’s with the masks?”
“Used to be, we just wore lots of black and did everything at night.”
“No, uh, no drive-bys with ARs during rush hour. In broad daylight.”
No response. A couple gunmen fidget nervously.
“Do you guys still hire through CraigsList?”
One of them lifts his mask enough to speak, asks: “Who the hell are you?”
“Eben. I used to run with the Fort Myers crew a few years back. Recognized the Mark… ”
He points to the others’ masks.
“…and thought you could use a little help.”
“Does it look like we need help?” the speaker asks.
The new guy - Eben - looks over to see Theo crouching behind the bullet-riddled car. The group follows his gaze.
“It looks like you just spent four minutes not killing someone” Eben remarks.
The speaker mumbles something.
“I said ‘Shock and Awe’. That’s the new direction they’re taking things. Gave up on covert stuff a while back, I guess.”
The speaker shrugs. “We’ve only been doing this for about a month.”
“Mhmhpt mmr Mhrl,” One of the others says.
“Oh yeah, except for Carl,” the speaker says, pointing to the guy hanging out the sunroof. “He’s been here for three.”
The gunman in question waves.
Eben waves back. To the speaker, says: “Can I see your gun?”
Theo becomes aware of the sound of sirens drawing near. He quickly begins to formulate a plan to preserve his worthless butt for just a few more precious seconds. If he can squeeze under the car, make it look like he’s managed to escape-
He doesn’t even have time to react to the sound of approaching footsteps. The guy named Eben is just suddenly there, looming over him. Startled, Theo stumbles back from his half-crouched stance and falls on his ass. Up close, Theo notices the kid’s lanky, with no real muscle on him. he starts to rise, easing into the beginning of a lunge. If he can get this asshole in a headlock-
Something in the kid’s eyes turns Theo’s blood cold.
As in, Eben looks at him and Theo suddenly feels his body temperature actually drop almost a whole degree. He lets out a sigh and falls back slowly against the car.
The sirens fade along with everything else. Eben looks a lot bigger all of a sudden.
Also, he’s holding a gun.
“Don’t worry” Eben says, leveling the weapon at Theo. “This shouldn’t hurt.”
Theo tries to voice his opinion to the contrary.
White light envelops him.
So that was a struggle. After some paralytic writer's block, I'm pretty sure how this thing is going to play out; we'll just have to see if it makes for a good story in the end. Apologies nonetheless for the wait. Hopefully we'll see each other no later than this time next week.
Oh, and a belated Happy Annual Gift Exchange Day to one and all!