spyboy

U-Haul with Dinosaur by John Bennett

The story below was first published in Bicycle Review. It also appears in the short story collection, U-Haul with Dinosaur, which can be ordered by clicking here

Spyboy

I.

The code word was stitch-in-time, but by the time he’d crossed the border the garment had been rented to a Mongolian sausage mogul too fat to buckle his belt. A tattered rag of a thing, Spyboy did the slinky back into the shadows and tried to lay out a coarse action. All that training, and for what? This–crouched behind a trash can in the mouth of an alley less than fifty yards from enemy headquarters, the fortress of secrets.

Well, fuck a duck, thought Spyboy, and spasmed into reverie–the yellow rubber duck that went quack when you squeezed it, the mulatto nanny making waves in his Saturday-night-special bath, pushing ducky along, right into the harbor formed by his thighs. Quack!” went ducky. “Quack! Quack!” as Maxine’s slender fingers closed around his drive shaft and anchored his man-of-war, the entire fleet assembled on the poop deck for shore-leave inspection. And then the shotgun roar from his blind side, downy feathers floating like snow to the red zone of his brain pan. “Ahh!” hissed Spyboy. “Ahh!” Snorkel in place, he slides under the warm sudsy water.

Those were the days, happy days before they caught Maxine on candid camera and dragged her away in the middle of a bath. Six times they dragged her down the stairs by her mighty tar-black hair, but do you think she cried out? Not Maxine. Not Spyboy’s one and only. They just wanted to make the script right, wanted it to read: They dragged her screaming down two flights of stairs…
Take one, take two, take six and then they threw her in the back of the limo with the fat Mongolian. That’s all it took to give Spyboy an ax to grind. Even four years at Harvard and a Mercedes upon graduation didn’t take the edge off. He became a dentist and went drilling for oil in the mouths of his parents’ best friends. A knee in the groin of Madame Bovary and a drill in the red chamber of her mouth, the masked man did what he could to get even.

***

There are gaps, inconsistencies compacted like molars in the mouth of the beast, the smell of sweet decay and the cushion of a Venus mound here and there where he’d rest his weary head, flick his lightning tongue, insert the rod of creation, but no one could touch Maxine. It was her eyes more than anything, then her breasts, her ripe dark-nippled breasts, and the way her wet off-the-shoulders magenta blouse clung to them when she did what she did with the duck, all that cascading dark hair tumbling over her honey-brown shoulders, and her throaty delighted laughter, Spyboy kicking his little feet and squealing like a piglet.
“Hey now!” she’d say, never taking her eyes from his. “Hey now!”
Every Saturday night, for almost a year.

There are inconsistencies and serious questions, like–what in the hell was a black nanny just barely street-legal herself doing giving a bath to a rich eleven-year-old white boy? She fed him, too. “Open up that sweet little mouth,” she’d croon, and Spyboy would work hard on it, he’d muster all the power he had in his stricken brain, stricken but with an IQ of 200, if he could just get a running start on the three R’s. Years later it would be R&R in places like Bangkok and Tokyo, a little time off from assassinations and suitcase bombs left in airport lockers, but until Maxine, Spyboy was a basket case. Keep the monitors running and make him as comfortable as possible, the medical profession advised; here’s a tube for feeding, a tube for breathing, and another to piss in. Spyboy was born out-to-pasture. He lay in bed year after year, fat ruddy women turning him like a lamb on a Greek Easter spit, and every now and then mommy and daddy would come in and stand at the foot of his bed and stare down at him. And then Maxine was hired to cook and clean, and that’s exactly what she did until one day, dusting things off in Spyboy’s room, she caught him staring at her with that certain look in his eye.

“Uh-huh,” said Maxine. “You got yourself a fire burning in there.”

Spyboy, who’d been Edward until this moment, Spyboy whose face had been deadpan all his life except when pain twisted it grotesque, Spyboy who’d never smiled in his life gave it a try, one corner of his mouth crawling up his face. Maxine left off dusting and came over to sit on the edge of the bed. “Well here now,” she said, “get a load of this.” And she undid the buttons of her blouse one by one, reached back and unhooked her bra, and there they were.
For the first time in his life, Spyboy’s face took on color.

The doctors were skeptical, and Spyboy’s mommy harbored more than a little apprehension about the power this new nanny had taken on. Spyboy’s daddy made Maxine a full-time nanny and gave her a raise, but not so much that she could stop taking the bus and buy herself a car. The trick was to make them appreciate you without giving them enough to break free. Spyboy’s daddy knew the trick well. You can’t build a fortune manufacturing typewriter spools without it.

***

Maxine was nineteen when she first did the thing with the duck. She had him half-assed walking by that time, and he was talking a blue streak. But no one listened except Maxine, because what came out of his mouth was slur. He was more of an embarrassment talking and jerking around the house than he’d been as a perfect little statue tucked away under expensive covers.
Sometimes, when he grew despondent, Maxine would curl up with him in his bed and sing songs about Jesus and backdoor men. Spyboy would listen to her soft singing and feel the sorrow down in the marrow of all those whiteout years before her arrival, and then he’d work his milky arms around the darkness of her and they’d rock there on the bed, humming together, Spyboy sounding like the Hunchback of Notre Dame with a bad case of strep throat. He sent chills thru her when he croaked the blues, chills that went as deep down into her as anything or anyone had ever gone before.
Eventually though things leveled out, and Spyboy began settling for what he had, figuring that he already had a few thousand times more than he’d ever dreamed of having, and that’s when she sailed the duck into his harbor.
From the beginning she knew she was sending him on his way, and sometimes she’d get selfish and testy, but she could never keep it up for long. He was just a man-child down under all his grotesqueness, down under all that brain power, and the woman thing in her, the mother thing, loved him fiercely and tenderly. She wrapped her slender brown fingers around his little cock and opened the cage door.
Maxine.
One in a million.

***

Spyboy went into a tailspin when they took her away. He got back under the covers and stuck the yellow duck under his pillow and all thru the night squeezed it.
“Quack,” went the muffled duck. “Quack, quack.”
As time passed he plotted murder and mayhem in the war chamber of his brain, murder, mayhem and suicide, and then one winter night after she’d been gone almost a year, the sky black and clear and nailed thru with stars, he got out of bed and crossed the room. He pulled the curtains and looked out at the night, and it was electric with Maxine’s spirit. He stood barefoot in his pajamas, his thin arms dangling at his sides, and he tilted his head and moaned. He moaned and wept and grieved, and when he awoke the next morning, he was possessed by a deep-seated mission.

II.

 

Spyboy watched from behind his trash can for the longest time, leaning against the brick of the alley wall, slipping in and out of reverie.
The crew of West Indie Creoles sang bawdy songs as they hoisted anchor and made ready to sail, and with a jade-tipped cane made from the femur of a hippo, Spyboy tapped his circular way around the deck of his world-class schooner. The cane was an affectation, as was the plain-glass monocle, the bloused silk scarf, the skipper’s cap with the gold braid, and the navy-blue blazer with the bogus coat-of-arms on the vest pocket. Spyboy had 20/20 vision, and he walked just fine on his own two legs after years of physical therapy. In fact, he’d overcome all mental and physical obstacles, and he was in killer shape. He lived in the outback of his accomplishments in a thatched hut of eccentricity, which didn’t stop him from becoming the most successful dentist in Boston. He had six chairs, four nurses, two receptionists and a crackerjack accountant who juggled the books. He raked in close to a million a year and managed to hide half of it in off-shore accounts. He was loaded for bear, and his vessel was headed for El Salvador, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with automatic rifles and heat-sensitive missiles. This is how Spyboy spent his vacations.
He opened his eyes. A Negro child in a prep-school outfit was standing in front of him.
“Well now,” said Spyboy. “Whose little boy are you?”
The boy didn’t answer. People streaked past the mouth of the alley like meteorites, locked in on Christmas. Out on the streets horns honked and sirens wailed.

El Salvador was child’s play. It was when he turned his attention to Africa that the sorrow became almost too much to bear. Biafra nearly broke him. Not his bank account, that was bottomless, but his spirit, that river of grace that floated his sorrow. Biafra was a wide vessel that scraped both shores on such a narrow passage, and whose keel sliced the silt on the river bottom.
His eventual recruitment was a foregone conclusion from the night they raided his bath and dragged Maxine down the two flights of stairs, over and over again. Spyboy checked the seal on his snorkel and under he went, becoming a spectator in his own life and watching thru the observation glass of his snorkel as his tiny submerged erection went limp and fell slowly to one side. The din on the surface faded, and then there was only the sound of his pounding heart.

***

Spyboy struggled to focus. He had company, a young man of color who might be the bearer of information concerning Maxine. He tried, but reverie pulled him gently back under.

The river was yellow and heavy and deceptively swift. It swarmed with little fish with savage rows of teeth and tiny, single-purpose brains. The jungle was as thick as a tightly-woven carpet and crowded right up to the edge of the river on both banks. Spyboy stood at the helm of the attack craft chewing on an unlit cigar, naked from the waist up, bandoleers slung in an X across his chest. He was tanned and covered with sweat and grime and almost as dark as his crew of three, none of them sailors, all of them mercenaries working partly for the Cause, partly for the cash.
This was his first assignment, given to him somewhat reluctantly by the Cause–he was a weirdo dentist from Boston, born and raised in the lap of luxury, but what the hell, the Cause needed all the help it could get, and Spyboy pumped a lot of money into the coffers. Let him play desperado if he wanted to. If he came to a tragic end, the Cause was lined up to get half his fortune. No one expected him to make it back out.
His mission was to blow a floating Japanese paper mill sky high. Three teams had already been snuffed trying to penetrate the Company’s defenses.
“I know how the Company thinks,” Spyboy told them. “I was raised by the Company. Give me a crew of three Afro-Americans from Detroit, and I’ll blow that baby clean out of the water.”
The Cause came across with the craft and the explosives and then gave Spyboy carte blanche. Three months later, looking like death warmed over, he broke out of the jungle onto an Ecuadorian beach. He’d lost his crew and the craft, but the floating paper mill was a thing of the past.

***

He was being brought to the surface. Two large hands locked into his armpits, and up he came like a salvaged ship, sheets of water running off his naked body. He was carried to his room by a total stranger in a trench coat and laid on his back on his bed. A doctor in a white smock leaned in close and peered into the steamy snorkel mask.
At the foot of the bed, he could make out the distorted shapes of mommy and dad. This is how he knew them, always at the foot of the bed, his mother needing a drink, his father with both hands jammed into his trouser pockets, smoking a pipe and cutting his loses.
And then the white medicine man was probing his testicles and stretching his limp penis and Spyboy cried out with such ferocity they all jumped back. An image flashed thru his red-alert mind, an image of Maxine in the back of the limo, a transferal from her brain to his, the Mongolian mauling her, his raspy tongue on her breasts, a thick hand yanking her head back by her rich dark hair, the other fumbling with the buttons of his fly…

“You have to eat,” the new nurse told him, not a nanny but a nurse. “You have to eat to grow big and strong.”
She was not ill-tempered, just Irish and dumb as a log.
“You have to get up and move around some,” she said, “or your muscles will go mushy. And you have to bathe, or you’ll stink. Here, I’ll hold up this sheet, you can wrap yourself in it to walk to the bathroom. I won’t peek…”

***

“Whachu doin’ just sittin’ there?” the boy said.
“Do you know Maxine?” Spyboy asked, his eyes opening again.
The boy ignored the question. “Why you dressed like that?” he asked. “Why you got pajamas under that fancy pimp coat?”
“Well now,” said Spyboy. “Ain’t you got a nose for other people’s business!”
The boy’s guard went up. This old honky wino had just talked like a brother. Not some white-boy imitation, the real thing, every lilt and nuance just right. Then again–it was more like a sister. Hold on now! The boy took a closer look. Man, the world was getting way too jumbled.

The boy was twelve. He came up thru the industrial district of South Seattle to Pioneer Square every couple of weeks to see what he could score. He wore this prep-school outfit he’d bought at Good Will so as to look respectable. His specialty was curbside cars with unlocked passenger-side doors. He did glove-compartment sweeps. It never ceased to amaze him what people left in their glove compartments: pistols, wallets, cameras, you name it. But every now and then, when the meanness in him was at fever pitch, he’d comb the alleys and roll some old white wino. Sometimes they had wine money on them, but he didn’t do it for the money.
But with Spyboy he couldn’t decide which way to go. For one thing, it was broad daylight and they were close to the mouth of the alley. For another, they were just across the street from central lockup. Maybe this wino was some sort of undercover cop. Maybe this was a trap.
Spyboy, sounding like a frog, began humming an old backdoor tune.
“Man, what’s goin’ on with you?” the boy asked.
“A long story,” Spyboy said. “A very long story indeed. One of intrigue and heartbreak…”
He wasn’t talking brother talk now, but it no longer mattered.
“It’s comeuppance time,” Spyboy said. “Inside that building across the street in an office somewhere sits the fat Mongolian who years ago took my sweet Maxine from me…”
“You talkin’ gibberish,” the boy said. He wanted to sprint out of the alley into Santa Claus Land, but something kept him rooted.
“We have to make things right, you and me,” Spyboy said. “You’re part of the mission now.”
“Mission? The only thing I got a mission to do is kiss your white ass goodbye,” the boy said.
“Really?” Spyboy said, pulling himself up into a standing position. “Is that right? Here now–grab hold of my arm so I don’t fall over. I’ve been thru hell. I’m on my last leg.”
The boy couldn’t believe he was doing it, but he was, and they ambled out of the alley and began a slow shuffle across the busy street.

***

He’d made the long drive from the mental institution up in Bellingham buried under sacks of mail and Christmas packages in the back of a postal truck headed for Seattle. He’d helped load the truck in his first week as an on-loan nut-farm worker after years of confinement on the maximum security ward–the new drug had vacuumed his delusions, and he was deemed no longer dangerous. He showed up for work that day in his pajamas, and a brother named Michael who was in charge of the detail said, “Spyboy–you gonna catch your death cold dressed like that. Here–put this on.” Michael was the only orderly at the institution who didn’t call him Edward, and he took off his flashy pimp coat and draped it over Spyboy’s shoulders.
Spyboy sat down in the truck and let the other inmates pile packages on top of him. When the truck got to the postal unit in South Seattle, he stood up after he’d been uncovered and helped finish unloading. Then he walked away.
He slept the night in a dumpster, and by the next morning his meds had worn off. The world was right as rain, and his head was crystal clear.
It was time to take out the Mongolian. The voices guided him to his target where he rendezvoused with his back-up man, one Nathaniel Golden, disguised as a preppy.

 

***

“I can’t be goin’ in there,” Nathaniel said.
“Of course you can,” said Spyboy.
“No, I can’t,” said Nathaniel. “I’m packin’.”
“Of course you are,” said Spyboy. “Let me have the piece.”
“Shit, man!” said Nathaniel. “This is crazy!” But he slipped Spyboy the Saturday Night Special and they went thru the door.

He had a way of talking, this mad wino in a pimp coat. He talked lawyer talk to the guard, and the guard went blind to what was right in front of him and directed them to the elevator. They got off on the third floor and opened door after door, Spyboy nodding apologies, until they came face to face with a man behind a door with the word VICE painted on its opaque glass.
The man looked up from his desk. “Yes?” he said. “Can I help you?”
They stared at him until they saw the fear grab hold.
“You must have the wrong room,” the man said.
“Do it,” said Nathaniel.
“Yes,” said Spyboy,” and he pulled out the pistol.

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