#5

“I think this was a mistake,” Danika says. She had been in Todd’s apartment for a mere three minutes before heading for the door.

“Wait,” Todd pleads, “I know this is new to you, but I can promise you won’t regret staying. Please, stay.”

Danika retracts, reluctantly, given the bizarre nature of the situation.

“I’m just more confused than anything,” Danika says, rejoining him in the living room.

“You came here because you were given a gift, Danika. You’ve been chosen. You possess an undying will for greatness. Don’t you think so?”

You think so?” she asks, pulling delicate tresses from her face and tucking them behind her ears, “But how do you know?”

“You’re a rare breed,” he goes on, “It’s obvious to me, though you’re struggling. Twenty-four years old, yearning, thirsty for change, stuck, confused, overlooked.”

Danika has always been spoiled. Her whole life: rotten, a broken yolk in the sweltering sun. At twenty-three, her parents were still packing her wallet, covering all expenses for necessity and want: $5,300 for monthly rent, $18,000 in yearly “enlightenment” trips to Chianti-soaked Tuscany, pony-haired makeup brushes, a $20,000 “shoe-string” allowance for Jimmy Choo pumps, maids for upkeep, chefs for around-the-clock duck confit cassoulets, mother of pearl caviar spoons with salted salmon roe, foie gras au torchon… Which was fine, you know, until her parents were incarcerated for credit card fraud, specifically ATM skimmers acquiring debit card information at numerous locations around town. After the initial arrest came the additional charges for the interception of online transactions through unsecured wireless networks. Safes were emptied and bank accounts disgorged: the expunction of life. For Danika, no more piggy bank stuffed with cash; no more mommy and daddy.

“What I really need is a way to survive,” Danika says, “I’m fucking broke.”

******

When Margaret hangs up the phone with Dora, she takes a few moments, sitting back, reclining on her mesh-backed grey and black office chair. Swiveling back and forth, she cracks her knuckles in front of her and reaches for the list of household numbers, many of them crossed off with ink from her blue ball-point pen. Dora Sandoval, X. Above it, each number marked with deliberate, straight lines: a row of Xs like Ghost Dance victims.

She swivels back to her phone, meditating on the list, the objective. She dials the next number:

“Good morning, I’m Margaret with Satellite Surveys. I’m calling you today on behalf of the upcoming political race. May I have a few minutes of your time?”

“I suppose so. Sure…”

Gabriel (‘Gabe’) Lanes, 4565 Dresden Avenue. Located in the Burrowfast District. Median household income: $23,000.

“We here at Satellite Surveys heartily appreciate your participation in our phone survey this morning. We would also like to use this time to thank you for fulfilling your role as a grade-A citizen. These political polls are so very important to us, as well as to our fellow Americans.”

“Sure, yeah… that’s fine. I guess polls are important, sure.”

Margaret is now set to bait her recipient. Even the slightest interest in the preservation of community can be explored, exploited. The desire for a sense of belonging. Namaste. Oneness. Symbiosis. Equality. Triumph. Defeat. Destruction. Thievery. Rage. It all comes full-circle: the cycle of giving and taking, living and dying, the rich and the poor.

“Mr. Lanes, or may I call you Gabriel? Gabe?”

“Gabe is fine. Can we get on with the poll?”

Gabe Lanes. Son to Jerry Lanes and Marianne Gonzales (former: Lanes). Brother to Marcos Lanes. Unwed. Father of two, both mothers renounced.

“Gabe, please, just wait. Let me redirect here for just a moment. I am actually not calling for any political agenda or purpose, but to offer you something. I might call it chance. You might call it opportunity.”

Burrowfast District. Comprised of 17 city blocks. 1, 312,825 square feet. 30.09 total acres.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Have you ever thought that you might end up somewhere different, Gabe? With your two darling children?”

One KFC. Two Cash-Stream money advance services. One furniture upholstery shop. One Dairy Queen.

“My children? How do you know about my chi–”

“Just a moment, Gabe. Just listen. You want to hear what I have to offer you. Your sons, Thomas and Brenley. Your family.”

Two gun stores. Two 7-Elevens. One Burger King. One Smash Hits porno store.

“But how did you–? Where did you–?”

“Gabe. Listen to me. You have been chosen. This, right now, is your beginning.”

*****

“Where the fuck are they?!” David Fronter screams like a lust-dieted nymphomaniac after a month of sexual purging, sweat beads forming between his furrowed, pipe-cleaner brows. Uncle Todd remains seated and calm, tranquil, as if this were expected, wanted, something akin to desire.

“Your supply is up,” responds Todd, unenthused, bored. “Nothing lasts forever. I told you this.”

“Where the fuck are they?!” David says, as if disciplining a pupil on syllables. “The shit is wearing off. I need more.”

“Your supply is up,” Todd says, voice unwavering and precise. Reaching for his steel mug, he sighs, then takes a sip of black coffee. “I told you this. You should have listened. I gave you ample time to perform… to utilize your dosage.”

“I just need a few more, that’s it. I can pay you anything. I’ll do whatever you ask of me. I just need a few more. Please.” His tone lightens in an effort to shift the opposition.

Todd sips his coffee, leaning back in a sunken recliner, and says, “Listen, David, I like you, ok? You’re a nice guy, albeit a very feeble, defeated one. I wouldn’t normally do this, but I’m willing to compromise.”

David, overjoyed, utterly exalted, looks like a 5th grade popsicle stick ferris wheel. Somewhat endearing. Mostly pathetic.

“I’ll give you another allotment,” Todd continues, “but you will be doing something for me in return.”

“Of course! Of course! Yes, anything.”

“You will be working for me, David. I am no longer interested in your money. It’s your services that I need. Day in, day out… Whatever I need, whatever I want… You will be there. From this point forward, you’ll be assigned to sales. The more clients you have on board, the more product you will personally receive. You play by my rules. Got it?”

David glances at a small, oval mirror on the wall next to him, and for a moment he notices the fear written, nearly carved, on his face. It wasn’t so much a momentary state of disillusionment, but a deep, conditioned modality. “Yeah,” he says. “I get it.”

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