How are all 3.5 of you?
How are all 3.5 of you?
As I walked out into the restaurant, Humberto’s words echoed through my soul. “A strawsassin always has back-up.”
I walked slowly, studying the face of each customer as I walked by. Everyone looked like a dopey loser with a face full of fattening chow. The idea that one of these morons could be a hired killer seemed unlikely and yet, Humberto knew his stuff.
I reached our table. Rosie was on her third chimichanga cheese stick. “Smasher! Where’d you go? While you were gone, someone ate all your…oh, OK. Fine. It was me.”
I grabbed Rosie’s arm. “Get up.”
“God,” Rosie said. “Don’t shit a brick. I will buy you another plate of cheese sticks, alright? It’s no big deal.”
“We need to move,” I said.
By the look on Rosie’s face, I could tell she realized we weren’t talking about heat lamp warmed piehole stuffers. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Not at all.”
“Will you this one time?”
“Do I have to?”
Rosie stood and walked with me. I looked around. I could still hear Humberto, and not because he was still monologuing in the bathroom. By now, I was sure he was gone, but his words were not forgotten. “There are bloodthirsty killers intermixed with the customers. They’ve got to great lengths to hide their identities. Any person out there on the restaurant floor could be a homicidal maniac.”
My partner and I walked past families celebrating birthdays. College kids avoiding their homework with drinks and potato skins. Old and young alike, having a good time being entertained by that insipid jackass in the Golly Gopher costume.
As we neared the exit, my Shaolin training kicked in. A cold chill ran up my spine. I stopped in my tracks. To my left, I clocked a fat bearded bartender, running the same dirty dishrag across the nice, clean bar over and over again. He didn’t do anything else. He just eyeballed me and worked that rag.
To my right, a young family appeared to be enjoying a night out. They were all decked out in their best finery. I suspected Mom might have been some type of kept woman, her ensemble looking like it had taken time to put together. Nothing a working woman could have whipped up on a minute’s notice, that’s for sure. Dad looked like a professor. Tweed coat. Patches on the elbows. Mom was feeding baby a jar of strained carrots she’d pulled out of her purse, her own plate of barbecued chicken, ribs, and pulled pork going uneaten.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Mom said as she moved the spoon towards the baby’s mouth. “Here comes the airplane into the hangar.”
“Rosie,” I said.
Dad cracked open a newspaper. The Washington Telegraph-Dispatch. He shook his head disapprovingly as he summarized the news for the missus. “Can you believe it, honey? Those nitwits in Congress raised the interest rates again!”
“Sorry to hear that dear,” Mom cooed.
“Get down,” I said to my partner.
“What?” Rosie asked.
I walked up to a round table, where a frumpy, overweight, middle-aged couple sat. Both silently stuffed their faces, using food to fill the hole caused by the unrelentingly depressing fact that they were going to have to stare at each other until the end of time, because both knew full well that at this late stage of the game, neither would be able to do better.
I kicked over their table.
“Hey!” the middle-aged man shouted.
I drew Thunder and pointed it at the man. “Run.”
The middle-aged couple did as they were told. I grabbed Rosie and pulled her behind the table, which was now flipped on its side. It didn’t provide cover from all angles, but it was the best I was able to do at the moment.
I shrugged off my leather jacket. There I was now, my rippling pecs poking through my tight black t-shirt. I drew Lightning. She was made out of silver so pure that she’d make a vampire hiss.
I pointed Thunder at the barkeep. I pointed Lightning at the young family. I looked into the barkeep’s eyes with my left eye. I looked into Mom and Dad’s eyes with my right. Yes, this was uncomfortable and yes, I went cross-eyed for a second.
I lowered my sunglasses over my heads. “Put on your dancing shoes, kids, because Satan is ready to samba.”
Customers freaked out. Dishes clattered to the floor as they ran for the exit. Rosie poked up head up. “Smasher, what the hell are you doing?”
She looked over to the young family. “I’m so sorry. He gets like this sometimes.”
On my left, the barkeep put down his rag. He cracked the muscles in his neck. On my right, Dad put down his paper and Mom put down her spoon. The parents cracked their knuckles.
“You ready to boogie?” I asked the barkeep.
“All over your face like America’s 1990s era sweetheart, Paul Abdul, bitch,” the barkeep replied.
I turned to Mom and Dad. “You two ready to waltz?”
“Like fucking Fred Astaire,” Dad said.
“And fucking Ginger Rogers,” Mom added.
I cocked the hammers of both gats. “Good, but just so you all know…”
Rosie pulled her Glock. “Smasher…what’s going on?”
I hate it when my snappy lines are interrupted. “…it’ll be you three that will be singing…in the blood.”
At this point, you should imagine shit going down in slow motion. After all, that’s what I did at the time, because as you’ll recall, I always have that sweet little mind’s eye trick in my back pocket. It really helps to perform a number of vital movements in rapid secession when every second counts and the slightest mistake can get you killed.
Like a ninja, I fell backward, firing hot lead at my assailants on opposite sides of the room. The barkeep reached under the counter and pulled out a tactical shotgun, a real nasty looking one too. Pistol grip with extra storage for red shells on the side. It was something a pro would use, not some lame ass booze jockey just trying to protect himself from a stick-up.
Dad pulled an Uzi out of that tweed coat of his and I’ll be damned if that thing didn’t spit bullets with the swift precision of a laser beam. With only a second to think, I noticed that the dipshit in the Golly Gopher costume was lunging about in a panic, unsure where to run. I grabbed him around the neck and hid behind his massive furry girth, allowing the costume to absorb the blast.
Mom whipped a 99mm out of her purse and squeezed off a few bursts my way. Golly accepted those too.
Blam! Blam! Blam! The barkeep was tearing the room apart with his shot gun. Dishes and glasses exploding with each blast. I pivoted and moved Golly toward the bar, letting that fat bastard take all that heat.
As the trio of hired guns reloaded, I pulled off Golly’s head to check on the costume’s occupant. Yeesh. The man inside was uglier than the character. Patchy red hair and warts all over his face.
“How did you know the costume would be able to take all those bullets?!” the man asked.
“Oh, right!” I said. “I did know that! Because, you know, science and ballistics and trajectories and shit.”
“Oh, hell no!” the mascot man cried as he bolted out the door. “Daddy’s tux shop, here I come!”
“Damn it,” I said as I grabbed an empty table. I set it in its side, its legs facing the bar. Rosie’s table faced the young family. Together, my partner and I huddled between the table legs.
“I just lost my human shield,” I said.
“You just lost your mind!” Rosie said. “Are you kidding me? Starting a shootout in a crowded public place?”
“Me?” I asked as I raised Thunder over the side of my table and fired blindly in the direction of the bar. “They started it!”
“Be careful!” Rosie said. “There are kids in here!”
“Well,” I said. “We all gotta grow up sometime.”
The barkeep’s gunshots rattled my table. Mom and Dad’s bullets pressed into Rosie’s table, showing it was only a matter of time before our makeshift covers would bust apart, leaving us with our asses in the wind.
“Back to back?” I asked.
Rosie nodded. “Back to back.”
“You got another?” I asked.
“No,” Rosie said.
“Why the hell not?” I asked.
“Because I’m a straw cop,” Rosie said.
I pulled a .38 I kept strapped to my ankle and handed it to Rosie. “Newsflash, baby. Straw cops gotta be strapped.”
As you picture this next part, you should think of your favorite kickass rock and roll song. Something between 1980 and 1992, because rock just fell apart after that. Disagree? Tweet my book’s self-publishing guru, Bookshelf Q. Battler @bookshelfbattle and chew his ear off then, why don’t you? Don’t tweet me, because I’ll put your complaints in my circular file.
Back to the action. Rosie and I stood up, taking our positions in a mini-phalanx. I aimed at the barkeep. She aimed at Mom and Dad. Two humans. Four guns. What a rush.
I shot out the glasses hanging over the bar, sending a torrential pouring of shards down on the barkeep’s head. Rosie matched Mom and Dad shot for shot. No one landed a direct hit and miraculously, everyone managed to duck in the nick of time.
Customers ran out the front door.
“Shoot the baby,” I said.
“What?” Rosie asked.
“Shoot the baby!” I shouted.
“What?” Rosie repeated.
“Damn it!” I said. “Switch!”
Rosie and I turned. She hugged her arms around my mid-section and opened fire on the bartender. I hugged my arms around Rosie’s waist and opened fire on…that damn baby.
Kaboom! The baby exploded into a massive fireball, causing Mom and Dad to jump for cover.
“You just shot a baby!” Rosie snapped.
“That wasn’t a baby!” I said.
The barkeep cocked his gun. I scored a hit in his shoulder, sending him down for what I hoped would be the count. No such luck. He sprang to his feet, ditched the gun, and grabbed a liquor bottle. He twisted off the top, and stuffed his dirty rag down the neck.
The restaurant was devoid of all innocent bystanders now. Mom and Dad pointed their guns at us. Rosie and I pointed back. It was a standoff and we all traded glares, waiting to see who would break the impromptu détente by pulling their trigger first.
Dad did it first. Click! Mom next. Click! Rosie followed. Click, click! Then me. Click, click!
“Oh, come on!” Dad said as he spiked his Uzi on the floor.
“You just can’t get enough ammo anymore,” I said.
“Fucking anti-gun lobby,” Mom said. “They’re making it harder and harder to have a shoot-out in a crowded space anymore.”
“Bloody ridiculous,” Dad said.
“You’re British?” I asked.
“Yes, mate,” Dad answered. “I was using my American accent earlier. Did you take me for a Yank?”
“I did,” I said. “You’re very good.”
“Thank you,” Dad said. “You’re too kind.”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out two sets of brass knuckles and placed them over my fingers. Dad whipped out a pair of nunchuks. Mom unfurled a collapsible baton.
“Oh, come on!” Rosie said. “You all have melee weapons!”
“Come on, yourself, Rosie,” I said. “You’ve really got to come prepared.”
Rosie stomped her foot. “I…am…a…straw…cop!”
I looked at Mom and Dad. I pulled out a switchblade and pushed the button, releasing the sharp end. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Mom said.
“It’s only fair,” Dad added.
I handed Rosie the blade.
“I hate you, Smasher,” Rosie said.
The four of us paced about in the middle of the room. At the bar, the fat guy was busy making Molotov cocktails. He had at least six or seven of them sitting on the counter and was working on another one.
Dad came at me, nunchuku blazing. I launched myself into the air and utilized a roundhouse kick to connect my foot with his face. Mom took a swing at Rosie with the baton. Instinctively, but rather uselessly, my partner sliced and diced the air in front of her.
“Bah!” Rosie said as she hacked away, aimlessly. “Get back, bitch!”
More nunchuk swings. I dodged them, then came charging at Dad with a bicycle kick that connected one-foot blow after the next with the killer’s face, knocking him out cold.
“This is some seriously messed up, racist as hell, cultural appropriation bullshit,” Rosie said. “There’s an Asian in the room and yet the only one who knows karate is the white guy.”
“It’s kung-fu,” I said as I deflected Mom’s baton thrusts with my forearms. “And honestly, I feel like it would be more racist if the only person in the room to know martial arts was the Asian.”
Rosie picked up a beer bottle. “You’ve got me there.”
“I mean,” I said. “It’s not like you all train to fight in the ways of the ancient ones, do you?”
“No,” Rosie said as she smashed the bottle over Mom’s head, sending her to the floor, unconscious. “Sometimes less involved methods are more effective.”
The barkeep had ten Molotovs burning and ready to throw. “You hear me? You’re both dead!”
He hurled one. He smashed a few feet in front of us, exploding and consuming its blast radius. He threw another. It landed far from us, exploding.
“Shit,” I said. “This guy could throw for the Cubs.”
Rosie looked at me. “Let’s bounce.”
I nodded. We ran for the door. As we did, I reached out and caught one of the hurled Molotovs. I aimed it at the bar, where the rest of the deadly concoctions stood. I threw it, then ran with Rosie out the door into the parking lot.
We dashed behind a parked car just in time to miss the fire and debris that shot out of the front of the building, tearing the once delightful family restaurant apart.
Rosie caught her breath. “How did make those clowns?”
“Easy,” I said. “No bartender making minimum wage plus tips cares enough to keep his bar that clean. No mother who dresses like she’s that rich would be feeding her own baby. She’d have a nanny to do that shit and dear old Dad? Who the hell has cracked open a newspaper made out of actual newsprint since 2008? Bunch of lousy amateurs.”
“But the baby!” Rosie said. “You shot a baby on a hunch!”
“It wasn’t a hunch,” I said.
“Then how did you know?”
At that exact moment, a tiny sphere the size of baseball dropped out of the sky, landing at our feet. It was the baby’s head. I picked it up and shook it in Rosie’s face. The eyes popped out on springs.
“Ma…ma,” the baby said in a robot voice that was slowly breaking down. “Ma…ma…no…ma…ma…why…did you…program me to feel pain?”
The baby’s head shook rapidly. I threw it over my shoulder, avoiding the explosion.
“Elementary, my dear Rosie,” I said. “No couple that attractive would have a baby that ugly.”
My partner and I rested our heads against the car.
“What if the baby had been adopted?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sometimes a straw cop’s just gotta go with his gut.”
Woo, woo, woo! Sirens and flashing lights. Three cruisers and a SWAT van pulled up. A tactical team poured out the back. Uniformed cops jumped out of their cars. All pointed guns at us. Rosie and I put our hands up.
Seconds later, an unmarked black sedan pulled up. Out of it stepped none other than one Lt. Jeffries.
“Smasher,” the lieutenant said. “I should have known.”
The sound of the lock to the men’s restroom snapping shut was disturbing to me. I’d never made a habit of hanging out with dudes in public restrooms and wasn’t about to now. I had a reputation as a snatch magnet to uphold, and I wasn’t about to tarnish it for anyone.
“So, Mr. Smasher,” Humberto said. “I see like Alice, you’ve chased the white rabbit, but are you prepared to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes?”
“Umm,” I said. “Is that an invitation to learn more about a conspiracy or a thinly veiled sexual innuendo?”
“It can be either,” Humberto said. “Your choice.”
I coughed into my fist. “Uh…the former, please.”
“P’shaw,” Humberto said. “Typical outdated cis male. Never willing to step outside your pre-conceived box and live a little.”
“My box is just fine, palooka,” I said. “How’d you know my name?”
“Please,” the waiter replied. “Your gorgeous face is all over the news, as well as social media. Why, you’re Mack Smasher, who is, depending on who you ask, a menace to society who is going to kill us all over straws or save the world from straws, depending on whether you ask your fans or your detractors.”
“I have those?”
“Of course,” Humberto said. “Dear me, you must get yourself connected online more.”
“In my experience, the Internet is just a breeding ground for weirdoes and perverts,” I said.
“Eh, you have a point there,” Humberto said. “Still, you should check it out from time to time. You’d be surprised to learn how many supporters you have out there. In fact, you have one in here.”
“I could tell,” I said. “Your hatred of straws is as genuine as mine, and that’s a feeling that’s hard to manufacture out of whole cloth, no matter how much cheap Chinese kid labor you acquire for three cents a day.”
Humberto took my hand. I don’t think he meant it as a gay gesture but rather, as one of sincerity. At any rate, it felt very gay. I didn’t want to chance it, so I retracted my hand.
“They’ve found me,” Humberto said.
“Who?” I asked.
Humberto lifted the sleeve of his bicep to reveal his tattoo. It consisted of two bendy straws, the tops bent at perfect angles. In the middle, they crossed in an X. A skull with vacant eyes appeared between them.
“What in the…”
“Please,” Humberto said. “Relax, sir.”
“You’re…one of them aren’t you?” I asked. “Shit, I thought I’d seen all the symbols of all the pro-straw gangs in history but that’s a new one. Is this a trap?”
“No,” Humberto said. “Mr. Smasher, I swear to you, on the grave of my dear, darling, long lost Rodrigo, that I am your ally. Yes, I was once an adherent to the terrible tenets of straw fascism, but I swear to you I am a changed man. To quote the immortal words of Amazing Grace, I once was lost, but now, I am found and I like where I am, as a proud member of the underground anti-straw movement, though I must admit, I am much quieter about it than you are.”
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at the tattoo.
“You don’t know?” Humberto asked, a look of great shock on his face.
“Dios mio!” Humberto exclaimed. “Aw, my former cohorts are craftier than I thought, if they evaded detection by even the great renegade straw cop, Mack Smasher, all this time.”
“Start making some sense, fella,” I said. “Because the longer we stand in this shitter, the longer people outside are going to assume we’re in here fuckin,’ and I can’t have that.”
Humberto calmed down. “I respect your old-fashioned allegiance to misguided gender norms. I scoff at it, but I respect it. Mr. Smasher, this is the sign of…”
The waiter looked around. Seeing no on was watching, he finished the sentence. “…the Illumistrawti!”
“The Illumistrawti?” I asked.
“Yes,” Humberto said. “Oh! Be careful in invoking their ghastly name, for they have operatives everywhere, even in this very restaurant. They watch me at all times.”
“Who are they?” I asked.
“Who…who are they you ask?” Humberto slapped the back of his palm against his forehead, looking as though he might feint at any moment. “And here I thought you were the world’s greatest detective of straw crime!”
“Yes, well,” Humberto said. “It’s like there are many of them, are there? So, it’s not like there’s a high bar for you to pass, but you’ll do. Smasher, haven’t you studied straw history?”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m some geek of the street,” I said. “I’ve been researching the history of straws for as long as I can remember. Hell, I’m even in the process of constructing a time machine that would allow me to travel back to the 1800s and punch world class inventor Marvin Stone in the face until he agrees to not seek the patent on the world’s first mass production ready drinking straw.”
Humberto erupted in laughter. “Ha! Smasher, you ignoramus! You think this hellscape we’re living in all starts with Marvin Stone and wait. Really? You made a time machine?”
“It’s mostly just a toaster oven that I connected to a tablet computer at the moment,” I said. “It’s in a rudimentary stage but I’m getting there.”
“Ah,” Humberto said. “Well, straws date way, way way, before Stone’s time. Sure, he may have figured out a way to get them in the hands of the masses, but since caveman times, man has been torn between drinking directly from a container of water or to employ the use of a tube as a middleman between container and mouth.”
“It makes no sense,” I said.
“I know, right?” Humberto asked.
“Why add that extra step?” I asked.
“It’s ridiculous,” Humberto said. “And yet, early man would fight over this all the time. Some cavemen would say it’s perfectly fine to lift the hollowed-out rock serving as a bowl to hold water and tip it right into your mouth. Others would say that’s disgusting for multiple people to put their mouths all over the rock bowl and to reduce the possibility of transmitting germs and diseases, they should use hollowed out twigs, rolled up leaves, or even pieces of bamboo to deliver the water from bowl to mouth.”
“Absurd,” I said. “They could just wash the bowl between uses.”
“Exactly!” Humberto said. “Ah, but as time went on, straw related disagreements cursed the earth. Historians wrote this fact out of the history books, but in truth, all wars since the beginning of time have been over straws.”
“In my gut I always knew that,” I said. “Goddamn crooked historians.”
“By the late 1930s, a new pro-straw movement swept through Germany,” Humberto said. “While Adolf Hitler sought to transform the world into one, giant dictatorship beholden the terrifying vision of an all-white master race, his lesser known cousin, Rudolf Spitler, lead a band of pro-straw zealots who marched through Europe, knee-capping anyone who refused to drink with a straw.”
“The Strawzis,” I said. “I know of them. They marched under the banner of the strawstika.”
“A disturbing symbol indeed,” Humberto. “And those who gathered in secret to exercise their God given right to sip directly from a cup without an unnecessary interloquitor were hunted down and executed by the Strawzi party’s villainous enforcement wing, the villainous gestrawpo.”
“Bastards,” I said. “I hope they’re all rotting in hell.”
“Of that, there can be no doubt,” Humberto said. “After the war, a new pro-straw movement began, this one in Sicily. They called themselves the Strawfia and soon they had infiltrated every aspect of American life, from politics to business to sports and entertainment, they spread the tentacles of their corruption, strangling every last dollar they could out of the system and using it to pay off politicians who gladly passed laws that allowed restaurants to flood the world with straws. Bah, you hear debates about limiting the number of guns a man can buy, but nary a word on how many straws a single individual is allowed to acquire. Why, thanks to the Strawfia, you can waltz right into a Fatty Burger, grab a handful of straws and the police won’t even show up at your door to strip search you and ask you a thousand questions.”
“That makes me want to puke,” I said. “But you’re not telling me anything I don’t know.”
“Then let’s get to the last twenty years’ worth of developments in straw crime,” Humberto said. “The knowledge of which seems to have eluded you.”
“I’m aware straw crime has never stopped,” I said. “I just don’t understand it’s latest organizational format.”
“Few do,” Humberto said. “And that is the genius of the Strawman.”
“The Strawman?” I asked.
“Is that when you get into a debate with somebody about whether tax rates should be raised or lowered. You take a stance for lowering them and your opponent bypasses your argument and counters with an accusation that you’re a chicken fucker instead, so then to the untrained observer, it looks like your opponent has won because you’re up there, trying to prove your innocence of chicken fuckery rather than get into the substance of the actual topic of the debate?”
“No,” Humberto said. “You’re thinking of a strawman argument. Please, do not confuse that with the Strawman.”
“I’ve heard rumors of his existence,” I said. “I thought he was just a myth, a ghost, a boogeyman that straw haters like myself tell to children to keep their lips on the cup and away from straws.”
“No,” Humberto said. “He is very much real. In the early 2000s, he brought the Strawfia to heel. One by one, he waged civil war against the lesser straw gangs. The Order of the Straw. The Strawng Armers. M-SIP 45. The Four Horsemen of the Strawpocalypse. One by one their leadership either bent a knee and joined the Illumistrawti or suffered death by the Strawman’s hand.”
“Who is he?” I asked. “I must know.”
“No one knows,” Humberto said. “Few have seen his face and lived to tell the tale. Those who have are his most trusted subordinates, die-hard straw lovers who would give their lives willingly just to see a world where everyone sucks.”
“If that’s the symbol of the Illumistrawti,” I said, pointing to Humberto’s bicep. “And you’re no longer with them, why haven’t you had that removed by now?”
“It comes in handy,” Humberto said. “I now consider myself a one-man warrior in the anti-straw movement. In the past, I worked my way into Illumistrawti cells across the country, ingratiating myself to them before I help them meet their much-deserved demise. In recent years, I have slowed my pace, opting instead to take up the mantle of a humble waiter, moving from restaurant to restaurant, convincing managers across the country to swap out plastic straws for paper before moving on my way.”
“Blech,” I said. “Straw porn.”
“Yes, I know it’s straw porn,” Humberto said. “But this is war, Smasher, and we must do whatever we can to get plastic out of the mouths babes and onto the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
“Why’d you join such a lousy band of assholes in the first place?” I asked.
“I was young,” Humberto said. “Stupid and naïve. My sister died from a deadlier than average strain of influenza. Her doctor lectured my parents that if only they had gotten our family’s precious little one hooked on straws early, she would have lived, free from the germs that grow on communally used glasses, despite being run through the dishwasher regularly.”
“Germs that can outlive a run through the dishwasher?” I asked. “Give me a break.”
“Yes, well,” Humberto said. “What did I know? I was young and unaware of the powerful influence the pro-straw forces had over the medical profession. Immediately, I sought out my local chapter of M-SIP 45 in Guadalajara. I joined and after a grueling initiation process, I was smuggling trucks full of untaxed, tariff circumventing straws over the border into the United States and selling them to restaurants at bargain basement, cutthroat rates. Thanks to bandejos like me, it became cheaper and easier than ever for the food service industry to flood the market with plastic, choking our rivers and streams and worse, putting the life of every man, woman and child in mortal peril.”
“May God have mercy on your soul,” I said.
“Yes,” Humberto said. “I pray that he will, for I am a reformed man.”
“What was your come to Jesus moment?” I asked.
“After getting shot in a straw deal gone bad, I realized that life was short,” Humberto said. “I proposed to my longtime lover, Rodrigo, a jaw droppingly handsome specimen of masculinity, who was literally capable of cracking walnuts between his tushy cheeks. Oh, and what a delightful heiney it was! How the many nights I spend making sweet love to it brought me so much joy and pleasure beyond any possible stretch of the imagination, and also, let me tell you…”
“Let’s fast forward through this part,” I said.
“Very well, troglodyte,” Humberto said. “During our wedding reception, Rodrigo, now my husband, ordered his usual cocktail of cranberry juice and vodka. Throughout the evening, he sipped on it with one of those little straws, you know, the ones that are so teeny they can double as both a straw and a swizzle stick?”
“Death traps if I ever saw one,” I replied.
“Indeed,” Humberto said. “Poor Rodrigo. He was such a prolific sucker. One of the many reasons why I married him, but as you said, you don’t want to hear about that in any great detail.”
“Oh, you sad, sexually repressed little man,” Humberto said. “I weep for you but moving on, Rodrigo sucked on his little straw so hard that it became lodged deep inside his lung, cutting off his air supply. He turned blue, suffocated instantly, and my life was shattered. I never enjoyed a man ass ever again.”
“You went celibate?”
“Don’t be silly,” Humberto said. “I didn’t say that. I just said I stopped enjoying it.”
“I’m sorry, Humberto,” I said. “I can’t say enough for the sake of my machismo that I am the furthest thing away from gay, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for one gay dude to lose the gay dude that he loves, but if its any consolation, I’ve lost over a dozen or so ex-wives so I too know the pain of loss.”
“My goodness!” Humberto said. “All your past wives died?”
“No,” I said. “They just wished me dead on the way out the door.”
“Not exactly the same thing, Mr. Smasher, but your attempt to empathize is appreciated.”
The waiter stood up on his tippy toes, moved aside one of the flimsy ceiling tiles, and pulled down a stashed briefcase.
“What is this?” I asked.
“I lied to you earlier,” Humberto said. “Plastic straws were given out in this restaurant. I ashamed to say, by me.”
“Humberto!” I said. “How could you?”
“The Illumistrawti is a difficult organization to leave,” the waiter said. “Once their claws are in your flesh, they will never let go. They tracked me down last week and forced me to deal these vile straws and track the results.”
“The results?” I asked.
“Yes,” Humberto said as he passed me the briefcase. “After the past few days of watching your anti-straw exploits on television, I had been trying to work up the courage to seek you out, tell you my story and turn over this evidence, but alas, I was so cowardly. But when I saw you walk through my door, I knew fate had brought us together.”
“Ahem,” I said. “In a purely Platonic sense.”
“Just two straw haters on a mission,” I added.
“I’m not trying to get up your ass, Mr. Smasher!”
“Cool,” I said. “Just making sure.”
As Humberto nudged me toward the door, I felt a cold breeze whisk through the bathroom.
“Sir,” Humberto said. “I must beg you to take your leave now. The Strawman’s agents are everywhere, always waiting, always watching. If they learn I talked to you, my life will be…ACK!”
My new acquaintance fell to the ground, writing in pain. He slapped his neck, then held it up – a tiny wad of wet paper.
“Egads! A poisoned spitball! This must be the work of…a strawsassin!:
Almost as if on cue, I looked up to the window on the other side of the bathroom. It had been opened. On that dark winter’s evening, I could only make out a pair of eyes and, you guessed it, a straw that was slowly moving back as the mysterious murderer pulled his head away, disappearing into the darkness.
I dropped to my knees and grabbed the waiter’s hand. “Humberto! What can I do?”
Humberto clutched his chest and gasped for air. “Nothing! Strawsassins coat their spitballs with a powerful, toxic chemical that works quickly, shutting down all bodily functions before the victim meets with a most unenviable demise! Oh, the pain! The horror! The horror of it all, I say!”
I pulled out my phone. “Hang on, pal. I’ll call an ambulance and get you fixed up in no time.”
“No!” Humberto cried. He choked and sputtered. “It’s too late! I am a goner. Ah, fi on thee, fate, cruel mistress that you are, for we must all face death sooner or later and yet we are never prepared to do so as death is such a foreign concept to us, life being all that we know.”
I squeezed Humberto’s hand. It’s important to me that you understand that I did this in a strictly, non-gay way. It’s something I’d do for anyone who was about to kick the bucket, so don’t go getting any funny ideas about Mack Smasher being light in the loafers, see?
“Mr. Smasher! Please, you must do something for me! It is, my last request.”
“Anything. Name it.”
“You must…fellate me!”
“There’s no time to argue, man!” Humberto said. “I beg of you, take out my manhood and give it a good shine, so that I may know the love of a man one more time before I die.”
“Dude,” I said. “Come on.”
“Oh, Mr. Smasher!” Humberto said. “I know behind your gruff exterior lies the beating heart of a kind man. Surely, you would not deny the last wish of a man who is about to shove off into the void that is the great unknown.”
“Damn it.” Ever so slowly, I reached my hand towards Humberto’s belt buckle.
The dying man laughed. “Bah! I got you!”
My face turned red. “You did not!”
“I totally…argh…ugh…I totally got you, man!”
“No, you didn’t,” I said.
“I did so! You were going to blow me!”
“I was not,” I protested. “You just had a little schmutz on your pants. I was trying to brush it off for you.”
“Whatever,” Humberto said. “But seriously, Smasher, you must do something for me.”
“If it’s got anything to do with your dick, I’m leaving you to croak on this cold tiled floor all by your lonesome,” I said.
“No!” Humberto said. “This request has nothing to do with my penis. Smasher, you must take the briefcase. Inside it, there is evidence that you can use to bring down the Strawman. I wish I had more time to explain but I can feel the poison doing its work.”
I looked at my watch. “Are you sure there’s no time for an ambulance?”
“No,” Humberto said. “As I told you, the poison is fast acting.”
“It doesn’t seem like it,” I said.
“Well, I assure you, it is,” Humberto said.
We traded confused looks in silence for a while. Finally, Humberto spoke up again. “Have you got any games on your phone? Sweetie Smash perhaps? Or maybe a movie? Something to pass the time?”
“Oh,” I said. “I don’t know. I don’t like to drain my battery unnecessarily.”
Humberto raised his hand. “That is very wise of you.”
“I mean, I’m not trying to be a dick or anything,” I said.
“I don’t think you are a dick,” Humberto said. “You are being very responsible.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s just, you know, when you’re out and about, you never know when you’ll get to plug your phone in again and in the meantime, something unexpected could happen and you need help but your battery’s gone and…”
“Say no more,” Humberto said.
“This is nuts,” I said. “I’m calling 911.”
“No!” Humberto said. “Too late! I am…gone!”
Humberto grabbed his chest and convulsed, his entire body shaking as though he’d just been electrocuted. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. He went silent.
“Oh, Humberto,” I said as I stood up. “I hardly knew you, but your death saddens me so. We could have been great friends, you and I, fighting straw crime and sharing our hatred for straws while hanging out and doing friendly and only friendly activities. Nothing gay. Oh well. Goodnight, sweet prince. Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
GASP! Humberto lifted his head up and caught his second wind. “Mr. Smasher! I almost forgot. I have one more thing to tell you!”
“What is it, Humberto?” I asked. “You can tell me anything.”
The goner curled his finger towards himself. “I am so weak. Come closer.”
I knelt down.
I moved closer.
I did as requested until the dying man whispered into my ear. “Kiss me, you fool!”
“Blech!” I said as I lifted my head.
Humberto laughed himself silly. “I got you again!”
“You did not! Jesus Christ, will you let me call you an ambulance?”
“No!” Humberto shouted. “How many times must I tell you in no uncertain terms that there is simply no time to save my life and therefore a call to the paramedics would be nothing more than a futile, meaningless gesture? Why, I’ll tell you there’s no time now, and if you ask me again I will give you the same answer. I just don’t know how much time I have to spend telling you that, Mr. Smasher. I really don’t. Why, in the immortal words of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the Lombards, a better monarch the world has not yet seen…”
I grabbed Humberto’s hand. “Forget the quote. Just save your strength.”
Humberto spat a heaping helping of blood right in my face. I closed my eyes, choking back my disgust.
“Oh,” Humberto said. “I’m terribly sorry. I had no control over that. I’m dying you see.”
“I understand,” I said. “You had something to tell me?”
“Oh, yes,” Humberto said. “Please, if you are ever in Anacostia, my apartment is 118 Frederick Street.”
I released Humberto’s hand. I pulled out a notepad and a pen and jotted the information down. “118 Frederick Street. Got it.”
“Tell my roommate Raul…”
“Your roommate Raul,” I repeated as I scribbled away.
“To feed Mrs. Fluffy.”
Confused, I scratched my head. “You want me to track down your roommate and ask him to feed your cat?”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” Humberto said.
“And that’s all?”
“Raul doesn’t have a special hard drive or an important clue to give me?” I asked.
“No,” Humberto said. “He is a nice man but very simple. He does not get involved in such matters. Just tell him to feed my cat.”
“Do I really need to?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Humberto asked. “I feed my cat all the time. If I’m not there, then she will not get fed.”
“Do you think that’s true though?”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, Raul is probably a smart enough guy. You don’t come home. The cat meows. He puts two and two together, realizes the cat is hungry and he opens up a can of cat food.”
“Right,” Humberto said.
“I’m not trying to shirk responsibility or anything,” I said. “I just think you might be selling Raul short.”
“Yes,” Humberto said. “I suppose I am. Yes, Raul is more than capable of taking care of Mrs. Fluffy. I’m sorry I bothered you with that. Goodbye, Smasher.”
“Oh,” I said. “This is it now?”
Humberto released a weapons grade fart. The stench singed my nosehairs.
“Yes, this is it,” Humberto said. “My apologies for the flatulence.”
“That’s OK,” I said.
“Goodbye, cruel world!”
Humberto’s head hit the floor. He convulsed some more and then was quiet.
I stood up. “Shit, that strawsassin has a hell of a head start, but I bet if I go right now.”
Humberto was up again. “Mr. Smasher!”
“Aw, what now?” I asked.
“Well, hello to you too, Mr. Snippy Pants!” Humberto said. “What, is my death keeping you from something?”
“Yes!” I said. “I’m trying to avenge you!”
“Oh,” Humberto said. “Yes, I suppose I would like vengeance very much. Although, I’d rather you not kill a man for the sake of killing him, as if that would somehow make my death any less tragic. It wouldn’t. If you do kill the strawsassin, do it so that no more victims fall to the fury of his fast-acting spitball of doom.”
I looked at my watch. “Buddy, it’s been like fifteen minutes.”
Humberto reached out his hand. “Come down here.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You’re not going to try to trick me into sucking your dick are you?”
“What?” Humberto said with a smile. “No!”
“Are you going to ask me to kiss you?”
I crouched by the man who I wasn’t even sure was dying anymore and took his hand.
“There is something very important I left out,” Humberto said. “You must investigate the Ajax Restaurant Supply Company!”
“Ajax?” I asked. “What about them?”
“Their factory in Baltimore!” Humberto said. “It’s where the Strawman plots the impending…Strawmageddon!”
“I knew those bastards at Ajax were dirty!” I said. “Wait, what’s Strawmageddon?”
Humberto barfed another batch of blood all over my face.
“Ugh,” Humberto said. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
I closed my eyes, calmed myself down, then opened them. “It’s fine.”
“I’ve lost all control of my body, Mr. Smasher,” Humberto said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m so afraid, so petrified! Is there life after death? Was life just a big waste, a meaningless exercise in existential masturbation, acquiring all types of memories that in the end are useless because they simply fade away into a black pit of despair? Or, is there a heaven, a happy place where one knows only joy and never again feels pain? A place where all our dreams come true and…BLARG!”
More blood. On my face.
“Wow,” Humberto said. “Three times.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
“I know you’re trying to cut me some slack because I’m dying but man, that’s gross,” Humberto said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Humberto, focus. What is Strawmageddon?”
“Strawmageddon?” Humberto asked.
“Yes! What is it?”
“Strawmageddon is the end of days for straw haters,” Humberto said. “It is an event that will arrive soon and when it rears its hideous head, the straw will reign supreme and all will be forced to bow down and pledge their allegiance to the straw, forced to suck upon it forever and ever and ever. I am so glad I am dying imminently so I do not have to see that day come.”
“What day is it?” I asked. “How will it be brought about? How can I stop it?”
Humberto said. “All very important questions, to which I have the answers but alas, there is no time for me to give you the answers you so desperately need because I can feel the cold hand of the grim reaper on my shoulder now. I shall drift off into nothingness any second now.”
“Not for nothing,” I said. “But I really think you should have led off with Strawmageddon.”
“You’re right,” Humberto said.
“Maybe you could have forgotten all that shit about the cat,” I said.
“Exactly,” Humberto said. “I’m such a dummy sometimes. Oh well. What can you do? Oh, and Mr. Smasher?”
“On your way out, do be very careful,” Humberto said. “For I must warn you, a strawsassin always has back-up.”
“Yes,” Humberto said. “There are bloodthirsty killers intermixed with the customers. They’ve got to great lengths to hide their identities. Any person out there on the restaurant floor could be a homicidal maniac.”
“Do you know who I should look out for?” I asked.
“I do,” Humberto said. “But I…”
“Have no time because you’re dying,” I said.
“Precisely,” Humberto said. “Oh, and Mr. Smasher?”
“No,” Humberto said. “If you’re going to get short with me.”
“I’m not being short,” I said. “It’s just, this is a lot of information coming at me all at once.”
“I understand,” Humberto said. “Just be aware that the Strawman is also a master of disguise. Over the years, he has taken many forms. He is no stranger to plastic surgery and has stolen the identities of paupers and politicians alike. You should trust no one, for when you least suspect it, the Strawman will strike!”
“Holy shit,” I said. “That little tidbit just made my butthole pucker.”
“As it should,” Humberto said. “Because, for all you know, the Strawman could be thousands of miles away on the other side of the earth, or he could be your best friend or worst enemy. Why, he could even be one of your colleagues on the police force. He could be your partner!”
“Mother of God!” I said. “No, wait, my partner’s a woman.”
“Do you think a little inconvenience like cutting of a dick and sewing on a snootch would slow the Strawman down?” Humberto asked. “He’s swapped out his privates thousands of times!”
“Yikes,” I said. “That’s gotta hurt.”
“I just wish I had the time to tell you more,” Humberto said.
“It seems like you’ve got nothing but time now,” I said. “Are you sure that spitball was poisonous?”
“I’m positive,” Humberto said.
We remained silent for a bit, until Humberto piped up. “So, do you have a deck of cards on you? Maybe we could play a couple rounds of gin rummy until I bite the big one.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve never been much of a gambler.”
“That’s fine,” Humberto said as his face turned blue. “I must bid you adieu.”
Humberto’s head hit the floor. He crossed his eyes, stuck out his tongue, and gasped one last breath.
“Finally,” I said. I moved to the door, but…
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow!” Humberto’s head was up and he was hamming it up again. “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time!”
“Humberto,” I said. “Look, I love you man. You’re the best friend I never had, but I’ve got shit to do.”
“Oh!” Humberto said. “I’m so sorry if my death is inconvenient for you, Smasher!”
“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just that I’ve got shit to do and I don’t have time to listen to you recite Game of Thrones!”
“What?” Humberto asked. “You think I’d allow my last words to be some pretentious hipster bullshit from that titty infested, pay cable, pornographic version of Lord of the Rings? I’m reciting Shakespeare, man!”
I sighed. “Fine. Do what you gotta do.”
“Where was I?
“The last recorded syllable of time.”
“Oh,” Humberto said. “Right. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“That was great,” I said.
“Was it?” Humberto asked.
“I’m no theater critic,” I said. “But I couldn’t have done any better.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smasher.”
“Please, call me Mack.”
“OK,” Humberto said. “Goodbye, Mack.”
Humberto’s head hit the floor. His eyes crossed. He stuck out his tongue. His farts bellowed. He coughed blood in my face a fourth time.
I stood up. I washed my face in the sink. Dried myself with some paper towels. I grabbed the briefcase. I unlocked the door, put my hand on the knob and was about to turn it, when…
“To be, or not to be, that is the question! Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or…”
“Nope,” I said as I walked out. “You’re on your own.”