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Return of the Lash - Excerpt


Rex was walking across K Street; the fabled home of fat cat DC lobbyists and white-shoed lawyers on a lovely spring day. The tulips were already out the ground and some of the cherry blossoms were still hanging around. He was puffing on a smoke, wearing shades and sport coat as he made his way towards his new favorite dive bar located just three city blocks from the McPherson Square Metro Station. Work was done for the day and as they used to say on the TV commercials, it was now “Miller Time,” except he rarely drank Miller. He was musing about K Street’s “service lanes” trying to figure out why here, on one main street in the District did they decide to add separate curbside lanes separated by a median? Why here and only here? An urban planning dead end perhaps.

He wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the traffic that surrounded him as he was caught up in anticipating a few rounds of drinks while also pondering the unexplainable intricacies of traffic engineering. All that changed when a horn blared right next to him, startling him out of his peaceful stroll and instantly flicking the crazy switch into the “on” position. He snatched the cigarette from between his lips and threw it towards the gutter, not caring about this particular piece of litter. He double-checked the “Walk” sign to makes sure he had the right-of-way and turned towards the car where the horn blast came from. He glared at the driver and pointed up at the sign and said, “Do you see that fucking sign, asshole?”

The driver was apparently trying to turn right on red, while the “Walk” sign was on and also across the service lane, which was doubly illegal. A knot of tourists stood on the corner of K, with phones in hand, probably looking for the National Mall. They now remained frozen in place, their jaws slackening as their attention became riveted on whatever Rex was going to do once he reached the side of the car.

Rex squinted into the windshield so he could see whoever he was getting ready to beat to death here on K Street Northwest, but the sun was glinting off the glass making it impossible to see the face of the future victim of his uncontrollable rage. “That’s a fucking ‘Walk’ sign, dumbass! And you can’t turn right from that lane anyway. Get out of the car so you can get a closer look!” He was already around the fender and approaching the door, his hands balled into fists. He glanced towards where the car was heading to see if it had an escape route – which it did not. The remains of rush hour traffic were still clogging up 15th Street, so this idiot was going nowhere until Rex was finished with the pummeling that was about to get underway.

He noted the make and color of the car, a white BMW, as hostile thoughts about BMW drivers and what the letters stood for flashed through his brain. “Break My Windows,” and “Bought My Wife,” were his two favorites. Breaking this one’s window was now on Rex’s to-do list. His plan was simple. He was going to punch through the glass, pull this douchebag out of his white BMW and give him a lesson on civilized driving techniques.

As he approached the driver side window, a small, barely audible voice in his brain told him what he already knew. The BMW, like every other car built since the early-1960s used safety glass and there was no way he was going to be able to punch through it. Chances were good that he would instead break a finger or maybe his hand by slugging it out with a car window. Rex ignored the little voice, remembering a scene in the first Terminator movie where the Terminator, as portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, successfully punched through a car windshield. This was going to be just like that, except once he got to the driver Rex would continue punching until this horn blaring numbskull learned their lesson.

Rex stood in front of the window and pulled back his fist aiming for the center of the glass, remembering that somebody once told him that if you hit a windshield in just the right spot, the whole thing would shatter. He decided that he would settle for that – a shattered window would be enough punishment for this BMW-driving dickweed. Just as he was about to unleash the fist of fury Rex focused beyond the glass and saw that the driver was actually a woman.

A woman that was now holding up a cellphone trying to record Rex assaulting her car. This only pissed him off further and he said, “Oh, you’re filming me? Seriously? Going to put me on YouTube or something, right?” He thought for an instant about using the heel of his hand. Would it be harder to break a bone that way? He decided it didn’t matter.

The woman was blonde, and she was wearing sunglasses with oversized fashionable lenses. He couldn’t see her whole face, but he assumed she made for an attractive image in her white BMW driving through rush hour traffic and honking her horn while trying to get wherever she was going at a faster rate in a town where driving anywhere, anytime was often impossible. Rex pressed his lips together as the crazy switch silently flicked back to the “off” position. He enjoyed tying girls up, spanking them, and having sex with them but not punching them or busting up their cars. He dropped his fist as the anger eased off but there was still a trace. He lowered his face to the glass and shouted at her, “I’m in the crosswalk and the ‘Walk’ sign is on! Lay off the horn, girly.”

He glanced up and noticed that the sign was now actually off and indicating he had five seconds left to make it safely back to the curb. He fluffed his hair, straightened his sport coat and muttered “impatient fucking chick,” under his breath as he continued his journey north. As he walked past the tourists who were watching his every move, he pushed the sunglasses up on his nose and addressed them directly saying, “The worst fucking drivers in the world, folks. Right here in our nation’s capital.”

He continued on for the next two blocks still steaming a bit but gradually feeling his blood pressure returning to normal. He went into the bar and found one of his favorite seats empty. Not too far down on either end and not directly in front of the air conditioning vent which seemed to blow full blast constantly through all four seasons. Jason the bartender acknowledged his presence by tossing a coaster, Frisbee-style towards him and pulling a cold bottle of his favorite lager out of the cooler, waggling it at him with a questioning look on his face.

“Yes, please,” said Rex.

Jason approached while pouring the amber liquid into a glass and then stopped in front of him saying, “What’s happening Rexter? You look bugged.”

“Some chick in a white beamer tried to give me a fucking stroke down on K Street. Blew her horn just as I was walking in front of the car.”

“Was the ‘Walk’ light on?”

“Yes, it was.”

“And were you in the cross walk?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Was she blonde by any chance?”

“What are you, some kind of mind reader?”

“Fits a certain profile, that’s all.”

“Mmm-hmm, I gotta tell you I’ve been trying very hard to avoid losing my temper, but I was really thinking about trying to punch out her driver side window and giving her a piece of my mind.”

“Good thing you didn’t, you may not have enough pieces of mind to spare and you probably would have broken your hand. It’s called the miracle of safety glass.”

“Again, with the ESP. I’m spending way too much time in here.”

“Well you seem to enjoy yourself, where else would you go?”

“I’m supporting bartenders all over town, Jason.”

Rex chuckled at his own joke and watched Jason move back down the bar to tend to somebody else as he thought about the point being made. He did have other places he could go but they were too close to the apartment. The Pub was on his way home from the gym and provided the reward for the punishment of working out. When he first started coming in, nobody knew his name and he rather enjoyed the anonymity but now, that was all gone. He was a regular.

He still went to the place across the street from his apartment, but it had turned into “our place.” He and Lucy were semi-officially, a couple. He was not sleeping or playing with anybody else and he assumed she wasn’t either. The relationship was forged during one of the worst parts of his life, when he was nearly framed for murder and dragged into a spying operation by a guy in a funny hat named “Wellborn.”

That was four years ago and seemed like another lifetime. Lucy and he had moved out of the friends zone, became lovers and occasionally shared holidays together. He loved her, he was sure of that and was pretty sure that she loved him. Yet, here he was at “his place” instead of “ours,” surrounded by ginned-soaked lawyers, tipsy journalists, service workers drinking their tips, and shady downtowners left over from D.C.’s pre-gentrified past. She would agree to meet him here sometimes, but it wasn’t her favorite spot and that was fine. He liked having his own bat cave that served alcohol.

He looked in the mirror behind the back bar and saw what he hoped was a gently aging version of his face. High forehead, sharp cheekbones, brown eyes and a face that people still said resembled somebody they’d seen on TV – they just couldn’t remember the guy’s name. But now, some gray was streaking into his brown hair and even frequent trips to the gym wouldn’t remove those extra four pounds.

He was still grinding through the day job creating content for the National Development Commission, a small independent federal agency that evaluated real estate for the GSA and other government entities. He was still feeling under-challenged and creatively stifled, but he had made his peace with a steady paycheck and a reasonable amount of financial stability.

Since he and Lucy were a thing, his life in the kink scene had faded into the rearview mirror and he told himself that he wasn’t sad to see it go. He had said goodbye to spanking parties, bondage nights and kinky happy hours. He had tied Lucy up, reddened her bottom, and tried every conceivable sexual position that he could think up but lately he had decided that the post-coitus cuddling might be the best part of the whole thing.

But even with all this joy and contentment he had an itchy feeling that he was missing something. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. He sipped his beer and for no particular reason thought about ordering a shot of whiskey. Maybe he should buy some drugs or have an affair except there wasn’t anybody he was really attracted to.

What did Jason say, “Fits a profile?” That’s what Wellborn said about him when he was recruited by the CIA or the NSA or whoever they were. Just then, his phone buzzed, and he assumed it was Lucy checking in. Checking in or checking up on him? He pulled the phone out of his pocket, squinted at the screen in the bar light and read.

“Hello Rex-

I’m wondering if we could meet for lunch on Wednesday at 1:00? I have something I would like to discuss that might interest you.

-Wellborn”

Rex breathed out long and slow and said to himself, “holy shit.” He wasn’t a religious man, but he admitted to being superstitious. He was always on the lookout for omens or signs from the universe about which new fork in the road he should take. He now believed the utterance of the phrase “fit’s a profile,” by Jason the bartender combined with his own thoughts of the past had conjured up the cat in the hat who was now appearing like magic, on his phone.

Rex pulled up the phone and texted back:

“The regular place?”

The reply came quickly,

“Perfect! Looking forward to catching up…”

Rex grabbed his beer and felt himself rising from the barstool. His hand went automatically into his jacket pocket and pulled out the smokes. He passed through the door of the tavern and set his beer on top of one of the plastic tables that served in the Pub’s version of a sidewalk café. He put the cigarette in his mouth, feeling for the lighter as he checked on the condition of the building under construction across the street. They’d stripped its skin off revealing a grid of concrete boxes waiting for the trades to come in with new plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. The way it was originally built must have made it cheaper to renovate than it would have been to knock it down and start over. It was sort of an anomaly in building techniques for postmodern construction. Historic preservation wasn’t a factor, so it had to be about the money. Now it was a skeleton, showing its bones to anybody who walked by.

He lit the cigarette and inhaled feeling the comforting pressure in his lungs. He really should quit. Lucy wanted him to quit and she barely tolerated it when he lit up in front of her. What the fuck did Wellborn want? “Something that might interest me?” What did that mean? More weirdo spy shit? He wasn’t sure he was interested but the extra money they were paying him while he was working on their last project together did come in handy. He liked money, right? Who didn’t? It was just a lunch and probably meant nothing.

He lowered his gaze at the cars speeding by him on L Street – all on their way to get the hell out of the District as fast as possible so they could go home, take their shoes off, have a beer and watch something stupid on TV – or these days to stare into their phones like the mindless zombies they were. It was just past 6:30 so there were a couple of cars already legally parked in the curb lane. Rex couldn’t tell what the cars were without looking at the badges since all cars now looked the same, boring metal and glass boxes just like the new buildings they were putting up across the street. The car directly in front of him looked like an unmarked cop car. Plain Jane sedan, cheapo wheel covers, painted an odd color not found in nature and…wait. Had to be a cop car.

He looked towards the nightclub next door that had been doing semi-legal cannabis pop-up vending nights when D.C. legalized weed. Word on the street was the club got raided a few weeks ago and all the stoners had split for greener pastures. So what was the 5-0 doing here, parked in front of his favorite joint? He squinted at the passenger side window and thought for a second maybe they’d seen him screaming at the BMW chick. Had she followed him up here without his noticing and called them?

That must have been it. She’d called the cops on him and she was the one who was in the wrong. He held up his hand to block some of the glare slanting down between the buildings and saw a face in the passenger seat. There was something familiar about the face and now the guy, this cop, was staring back at him. His mind jumped back to the details of his encounter with the chick. Was he wrong? Was there a law against screaming at bad drivers? No punches were thrown. They had nothing on him. The face gave him a wry smile and a two-finger salute. Touching where the brim of a cap would have been and them moving down so the two fingers pointed at him like an accusatory double-barreled shotgun. Rex’s mouth opened, just at the car left the scene, heading east, at a high rate of speed.

“Detective Span,” said Rex to the building skeleton hunched across the street.







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