Ports of Hell

£8.99

Just got around to reading the pages you sent and was agreeably surprised These are real maps of real places. That is what marks the artist — he has been there and brought it back. William S. Burroughs, on Ports of Hell
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Description

A picaresque story that borrows from all the pulps including crime sci-fi fantasy adventure and horror.

Ports of Hell tells the story of Jamie Coates, a young man who falls in with Elias who claims to be from Lemuria. On Elias’ instructions, Coates travels to Thailand and Mexico and later Hawaii and Sri Lanka, acquiring brutal enemies and caught in a struggle that threatens his sanity and life. Conspiracy themes are in play throughout.

A writer first and foremost, author Johnny Strike is a founding member of the seminal US Punk band Crime.

I sometimes despair of finding good new writers then along comes someone like Johnny Strike — Geoff Nicholson, prose editor of Ambit

Johnny Strike’s novel shows us a writer with a future part of the confluence of underground and genre influences that makes American fiction exciting — John Shirley, author of Black Butterflies and screenwriter on The Crow

In the tradition of the finest of pulp, Johnny Strike spins out a yarn that explores a dreamlike underworld inhabited by uber-criminals and agents of control. Borrowing from genres as diverse as sci-fi crime fiction and horror he delivers an allegory that all at once operates as satire and expose of the darker side of modern life — City Lights

Additional information

Book Format

By Johnny Strike
Book Format Paperback
Book Pagecount 192
Book ISBN 978-1-900486-33-0
Book Size 184mm x 135mm
SKU: 32bb90e8976a

Sample Content

Taken from the beginning of the book

Part 1

California

Jamie crossed a leg and looked at Elias, who was sitting across from him wearing makeup and a lavender turban. Elias was heavyset, wore a pencil thin moustache, had a shaved head and claimed he was from Lemuria. He had the most compelling pale blue eyes Jamie had ever seen.

As though laying out a card hand Elias placed money, credit cards, an airline ticket and a passport on a table between them. It was Jamie’s picture on the passport but a different name. Elias wanted Jamie to become an agent and go to Thailand on a training mission.

***

When Jamie first arrived in San Francisco he had taken a room in a seedy hotel in the Tenderloin. He spent each morning watching the hordes of homeless move by on the street below. On this particular day he opened the blinds to see a phalanx of shopping carts. They were packed with all their owner’s Earthly belongings. They were being led by a man who pushed an oxygen tank. A few in wheelchairs were being rolled along like some aberrant royalty of the gutter. Others hobbled on canes or walkers with dirty bedrolls slung over shoulders. They talked to themselves and looked for butts on the ground. One old crone who used a filthy crutch stopped, looked up and made a gesture as if beckoning Jamie to join them.

Jamie stood at the window thinking about the last twenty folded up and tucked away in his wallet behind his driver’s license. A week before he had fallen in with a couple of three card monte players. They’d taught him to be a shill, which included winning and losing strategically as well as being able to talk to, and prompt the players. They worked the street fairs and shows where they’d pay their way in and set up in the men’s room. They were chased by the police a few times but never caught. When the other two started to talk about a robbery he had parted company.

A few blocks from his hotel Jamie entered the waiting room of an old doctor’s office. Two other customers were there: an elderly woman who looked at a wall and muttered and an equally elderly man with darting eyes who snapped his mouth open and shut like a wooden dummy. Jamie stepped out to the lobby for a smoke. When he returned the waiting room was empty.

A voice called out “Next,” and he curiously entered the private office that resembled a pawn shop, TVs, and VCRs were displayed on shelves. Greasy boxes overflowing with cameras and tape recorders were stacked against a wall. A lone motorized wheelchair sat parked in another corner. The doctor wore dark glasses and sat behind his desk and fiddled with a gold watch. He asked Jamie what he wanted. Jamie mumbled about some vague back pain and how Codeine # 4’s had always helped. The doctor named a price and wrote out a prescription. He snatched the ten dollar bill with crooked fingers stained by tobacco and pointed to another door. Jamie could sell these easily to Bones, the junkie handyman at the hotel.

Jamie walked a few blocks to a bus stop and took one to the Mission district. He walked down a reeking sidewalk. He stepped past a pile of black feces, a pool of purple vomit, the remains of a discarded sugar drink in a plastic pouch and a bus stop that was a pile of green shattered glass. He passed a series of low roofed restaurants with outside seating. At one table three furtive men guarding their drinks glanced his way. The neighborhood was full of bars, taquerias and dirty looking cafes. All afternoon and part of the evening Jamie searched for a job but without luck. Then, below a red neon DINER sign a waitress, cigarette dangling from her mouth, was taping up a Help Wanted sign in the window.

Jamie looked in. There were nine tables in a blue room trimmed in gaudy yellow with a counter along a wall. A pimply faced boy was perched there on a stool with a cup of coffee. A fat man slouched at a table, the remains of a spaghetti dinner sat before him. Jamie went in. The waitress who had retreated to a back alcove, reappeared, smiled weakly and pointed to an empty table. Jamie asked about the job and with an air of disdain she told him to go to the back and look for Sammy.

Into a steam filled hell he stepped where pots and pans bobbed in sinks of greasy, soapy water. A rack of dishes rolled out of an industrial machine with a blast of steam and an apparition emerged: a wiry man with dagger eyes, beak nose, wearing a tight white T-shirt and white pants. At first Jamie was startled. Sammy’s head resembled some ugly, prehistoric bird. The bird man pushed a button and the machine droned to a stop.

“Who sent you back here?”

He ignored Jamie’s silence and gave him a quick assessment.

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll introduce ya to the beast.”

He showed Jamie the operation but had the annoying habit of adding “see what I mean?” after nearly every sentence: “The dishes come in here, see what I mean? Now you clean ’em off, and line ’em up like this, see what I mean? Now check this switch. Push this button. See what I mean?”

Finding this annoying yet strangely compelling Jamie paid scant attention to what Sammy was saying and instead listened for the see-what-I-means. This would cause him difficulties the first day on the job. The bird man said the last guy had worked both the day and night shifts and asked if Jamie would do the same until he could find a second dishwasher. Jamie hesitated for only a moment. He was nearly broke. After a few days Sammy hired a man who looked to be somewhere between sixty-five and seventy-five. The new old guy took days while Jamie worked the busier night shift.

It was dull work, the food was lousy and Jamie couldn’t figure out why the place was popular. At times he didn’t think there’d be an end to the hard rubber pans of dirty dishes dumped in front of him. Or an end to the rank, nameless smell that permeated the back rooms. Or an end to Sammy’s foul temper. The cook, a pleasant Nicaraguan, hated Sammy so much he finally quit. Sammy took over behind the grill.

As the weeks passed and Jamie started to save some money. He had little expenses and took his meals at work. But one night he showed up slightly drunk after a visit with an off again on again girlfriend. He took a blurred look around at all the pans of dirty dishes. He decided he had had it. He walked out the back door.

Lou, the desk clerk at Jamie’s hotel was an irritable old man with a foul mouth. He squinted at the Racing Forum. “Goddamn it I’ll give you your fuckin’ receipt,” he barked, “Just wait a goddamn minute.” Jamie could smell the coffee on his breath and resisted the impulse to give a him a jab. Tomorrow he would take a bus out to Yellow Cab. He had seen a “drivers wanted,” ad in the evening paper.

The Yellow Cab building was massive with no front entrance. He walked to the back and found a lot dotted with banana yellow taxicabs. There were gas pumps to one side and a car wash on the other. There was a half enclosed area with some benches, a dispatcher’s booth, lockers and a bathroom. He felt he was about to enlist in some strange army.

At the main office he was buzzed through. Behind a desk, at a computer, sat a man with bushy hair and a beard. He grunted, handed him an application and with a thick Russian accent instructed Jamie to get a DMV printout, sign up at the Hall of Justice for a class on driving laws, another class at Yellow, then pay the insurance. Jamie would be given a badge and a set of keys after he had done all that. Back on the lot, Jamie watched a cab roll in. The driver looked exhausted.

A week later in the early morning Jamie waited at a bus stop. An old character in a plaid suit stumbled out of a rundown hotel weaving a path towards a couple of imposing prostitutes working the next corner. At a restaurant a ghost of a waiter delivered a cup of coffee and eggs over rice. Frowning, he flipped on a dim overhead lamp and looked out the window at two winos in a phone booth sharing a bottle. In the entrance of an old apartment building a pimp in a gold satin suit lit his cigar. In another doorway a muscular transvestite in a red wig paced back and forth. Jamie boarded the bus, off to his new job.

The yard. Jamie joined the line that formed in front of the dispatcher’s window. Drivers talking about gas and gates, meter and a half’s, playing certain neighborhoods and hotels. The dispatcher opened the monkey cage, started to punch cards and toss down medallions, waybills and scoop up all the tips—a steady flow of dollars and five’s. The dispatcher didn’t seem pleased with the tips. In fact, he didn’t seem pleased with anything. Jamie gave him a five. He wanted a new cab and not some unreliable “spare”. Out in the lot, in the early morning fog, he searched for his cab with a flashlight. Here and there headlights came on, transforming the place into a kind of urban netherworld.

Jamie drove straight to the airport and pulled into the outdoor bullpen and put the cab in a line. An older driver crabbed his way over and said hello. His cab and hair were shiny and perfect at all times. His nickname was the Groomer. He was in his late sixties, but kept in shape. His hair was dyed jet black.

“Jesus, just listen,” he said. “They speak every goddamn language here but English.”

He nodded towards a Filipino driver who, with delicate hands, tossed up pieces of bread high in the air for the circling sea gulls to snatch.

“Look at this fuck feedin’ those birds. I’d like to have my shotgun. Those birds shit on my cab and this asshole feeds ’em.” He spat into the dust. “They’re dirty birds, dirtier than pigeons. Did’ ya know that?” He was getting worked up.

Even above the traffic noises Jamie could hear the wild screech of the big birds. Jamie enjoined him to listen too.

“You’re outta your fuckin’ mind,” he said giving Jamie a disgusted look. He headed back to his cab and began to polish it.

Jamie pulled up to International, found a fare and loaded a pile of awkwardly taped up packages into the trunk. The owners of the packages were two Germans in gray flannel suits. They muttered to each other as Jamie delivered them to the Federal building.

Morning at the yard. Under the harsh yellow light Frank, a moody ex-con, took one step at a time trying not to spill a styrofoam cup of scalding coffee. The previous night two drivers had fought over a fare at Pier 23. They had pulled guns and shot at each other from their cabs. One driver was dead from a head wound, the other was in jail. Frank knew the guy in jail. Jamie and Frank decided to play the same hotel and headed out in a drizzle.

Jamie found that weapons were common with drivers: handguns, stun guns, knives, screwdrivers, mace, clubs and crazy weapons like sword canes and sword umbrellas. Frank showed him how to use a clipboard by shoving it into the attacker’s throat and cutting off the windpipe. Another driver told him a dubious story of how he had used the cab itself, or rather his driving ability, to throw a robber from the cab.

But Jamie knew that most of the time you didn’t have a chance to use your weapon: your potential attacker was behind you or next to you. He was told that the best defense was being savvy enough to simply not pick them up. Frank said that he would develop a nose for this but he could still be fooled. There was a couple with a baby who worked out of top flight hotels. Another guy worked the airport, bus and train stations and carried a dummy suitcase. Another nut randomly shot drivers in the head. Another used the seat belt to strangle them. Jamie found the job exhausting. He drove a hundred or so miles per shift: stopping, starting, in and out of the cab, loading luggage, unloading, traffic jams, bad drivers, irate drivers, near accidents, accidents, angry faces in rear view mirrors.

Radio call. Bar in the Sunset District. Through the door came a dark figure dressed in a ratty brown leather jacket and matching hat. He brought with him the musty smell of unwashed clothes, cigarettes: something poisonous lingered in there too. Strong chiseled face, eyes hidden under his hat. In a syrupy voice he named an address across town, settled back, lit a cigarette and asked if Jamie knew anything about snakes. He proceeded to tell Jamie about the Texas rattlesnake roundups of his youth. “Now they’d shoot gasoline through copper tubing with a garden weeder into a rocky area they figured some rattlers were holed up. Sometimes hundreds would come out. Then they’d toss ’em into a tote sack. At the jamboree there’d be handlers in high leather boots and they’d put on little shows like pop balloons with their fangs, then milk ’em, cut off their heads, hang ’em, gut ’em, and strip ’em for boots, belts, and hat bands. And the meat they’d can and put some kind of a gourmet label on it.”

Jamie took another radio call and at the entrance of a small hotel a gray, wisp of a man wearing horn rimmed glasses perched low on his nose stepped out from behind some bushes and gave a little wave.

“I’m Doctor Hunter,” he said, “I called. I need to get up to the Russian River. Do you know it?”

Excited, Jamie lied and said yes. It was a two hundred dollar fare. He got out the map, located the area and the most direct route. The doctor was quiet during the drive so he found what sounded like incidental theater music on the radio and settled into the freeway drive.

“Would you like to hear a story, strange but true?”

Jamie turned the radio off.

“A few years back I was part of an ecological tour, in the jungles of Guatemala. We, that is the expedition, came across something quite spectacular.”

The time had somehow flown by and Jamie made note of the upcoming turnoff.

“Hm-m… well, what was it?”

“One of the Visitors. And very much alive.”

Jamie laughed but a shiver of recognition shot through him and he felt just a moment of panic. He looked in the rearview mirror at Hunter who was staring out the window.

“The Visitor stepped from a crashed capsule and floated away,” Hunter said. “Our government showed up with a faceless team called the Committee. We were interviewed by their so called specialists. Then they sent us back to our appointed universities.

“I must find them!” Hunter became overexcited.

“Er… where?”

“They’re here. They’re definitely here.”

Who was this character? Jamie looked at him again in the rear view mirror; his trimmed mustache twitched back and forth.

When Jamie asked what the Visitor had looked like Hunter fell off into mumbling to himself.

Jamie pulled over at a smart cottage surrounded by red rose bushes in full bloom. With an inquisitive smile Hunter studied him. He paid handsomely, stepped lively from the cab and disappeared behind the door of the cottage.

As Jamie crossed a bridge the sun sent a shaft of light through the tree tops. Tents were scattered along the shoreline and in the river stood fishermen in knee-high boots and hats. A part of him wondered what their lives were like. He imagined them later, around the campfire, eating the delicious fish. He thought about Dr. Hunter.

At a stylish hotel a limousine cruised up and parked in front of him. The driver got out and had a smoke with a bellhop. Together they aimed mechanical smiles towards the main entrance where a doorman opened one of the swinging glass doors for a fashionable lady. She descended the steps and headed towards Jamie’s cab. In response to the snub, the limousine driver whipped out a cell phone and made a call. The bellhop bowed awkwardly, walked ahead of her and opened the back door. She eased in, took off her dark glasses and hat.

She wanted a tour of the city. Jamie explained the hourly rate but she stopped him, opened her purse and handed him three crisp hundred dollar bills. He drove her through Golden Gate Park; in the Haight Ashbury she lit a clove cigarette. Jamie showed her the Golden Gate Bridge, the “crookedest” street and Alcatraz. At Coit Tower he waited while she went to the top. Throughout the tour she had remained silent. Finally she instructed him to return to the hotel. Jamie watched her disappear behind the swinging glass doors.

At South Beach he pulled into a parking lot to have his lunch. He turned off the engine and was at ease in the solitude. He looked out across the water to Oakland.

A dark sedan pulled in and a bald man in a tuxedo stepped out of the back and headed towards him. He was heavy-set but comfortable with the weight, the way some men are. There was something familiar about him but Jamie couldn’t put his finger on it. Had he been a fare? He had a large face, thin lips, full nose and smooth youthful skin. His pencil thin mustache and false eyelashes added a theatrical touch and softened the intensity of his pale blue eyes. There was something vaguely simian about him. He smiled, showed small white teeth and handed Jamie a card.

He walked back to the sedan. The door was still opened, awaiting him. The card was embossed with the name Elias and an address at the elegant Hotel Red Star. On the other side 7 P.M. was printed neatly. How unlikely. But there had been something undeniably intriguing about the man. What did he want? Jamie would be there to find out. He decided to leave a note in his message box that said where and whom he had gone to see.

When Jamie arrived back at his hotel he found an intoxicated Lou flirting with a street worn whore who reeked of a repelling floral perfume. Lou made a little dance like movement and mumbled something. The whore smiled, displayed missing teeth, then covered her mouth with her hand.

That evening he went to see this man Elias. A doorman in a gold uniform smiled quickly and opened the door with a sweeping gesture. At the front desk a clerk whispered into a phone, squinted suspiciously and hung up. He addressed Jamie in a high pitched voice. Jamie stuck the card under his nose and the clerk’s face formed a servile smile barely covering his dormant viciousness. Jamie took an elevator and, at the end of a long, carpeted hallway, found the room number. The door was answered by a man with an oddly slanted mouth wearing a baggy black suit. He had a long face, flat black eyes and slicked back white hair. Elias’ driver. He stepped out into the hallway and shut the door behind him.

“I’m Winks,” he said extending a bony hand. “Can’t see him right now but that gives us time for a drink.”

They took the elevator up a few more floors and found a table in the bar. Why the stall? Was this a setup of some sort? Jamie’s apprehension mounted when Winks made almost no conversation, but then Jamie got the notion that he was just slightly mad.

The dimly lit room was crowded with plastic plants, to create a jungle atmosphere. Water gurgled in an Oriental fountain near the table. A chirping sound drifted through the room. On a small stage shadows moved back and forth, then disappeared. An attractive redhead sat at the bar and displayed her shapely legs. There was a thin, pale man at the bar wearing a tropical print shirt. To amuse himself Jamie studied the shirt; yellow palm trees, white coconuts, black ukuleles, gold thatch roofed island huts and red sailboats all floating topsy turvy on electric blue waves. While Winks flagged the waitress for the drinks the shirt moved down the bar closer to the redhead and said something to her. They talked for a few minutes, then got up and left together. Winks turned back the cuff of a heavily starched shirt and looked at a dazzling gold watch with diamonds that circled the face.

They found Elias dressed in a hooded gray robe, sitting in an ornate high back chair that might have once belonged to a bishop but for the demonic head carved on top of the tall back. His hand cradled his chin. A soaring sensation rushed through Jamie. He had to steady himself as if too drunk or high. Winks directed him to a seat and he felt a semblance of equilibrium return.

Elias unzipped himself out of the robe. Underneath he wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and red bow tie. He smiled, showing tiny sparkling teeth. He lit Jamie’s cigarette with a lighter that he seemed to snatch out of the air; it disappeared just as magically. The room was lit in tangerine and brought to Jamie’s mind a film set. Winks, over at the bar, mixed more drinks. Jamie continued to feel a pleasant backwards floating sensation. He squinted at Elias, whose face was eerie in the flickering light of an errant lamp. Elias lit a cigar, working it around in his mouth. He seemed to be growing thinner as the shadows moved across the room playing tricks on Jamie.

Elias made a circle with his cigar and set it in the ashtray. He put his fingers together and the shadow it projected resembled a bird. Across the room wearing a long pale face, Winks sat quietly plucking at his sleeve. Elias examined his nails, saw something he didn’t like, picked at it, reexamined it and passed inspection.

He drew another circle in the air.

Jamie found himself under a sky thick with stars.

“No need for words,” Elias said.

Elias’ expression remained unchanged. He drew another circle in the air. The intensity softened with his smile. His expression again turned serious. Jamie’s head felt warm, then cool, then warm again.

In just a moment Jamie suddenly knew something. But there were no words for that something. He felt far from civilization and a distant part of him slowly being reborn. Elias said he was from Lemuria and wanted Jamie to join his team. Jamie’s first inclination was to laugh but a wave of recognition passed through him and as crazy as Elias’ statement was, Jamie knew it was true.

Winks led the way out. The elevator silently delivered them to the garage. The white capped, white gloved, attendant caught sight of them, turned and whistled. A moment later the black sedan pulled up and Winks climbed in behind the wheel. Elias had told Jamie he wanted to hire him for a driving job. He wanted Jamie to chauffeur a young lady named Anna to and from her therapy appointments. He had agreed to start the following Saturday. A few days later a dinner invitation from Elias arrived. It was on an old postcard; a sepia photograph of an American Indian wearing war paint.

The restaurant was in the back of an old hotel in the theater district. With a ghostly air the maitre d’ directed Jamie to a private room. He recognized only Elias at the massive table of ten. He sat next to an intriguing girl in a V-front black velvet dress. She had striking blue gray eyes and a mouth that looked to be always suppressing a smile. Elias nodded and introduced Anna: the lady who was to attend the therapy appointments. The rest of the faces were a blur of sameness and Elias pulled back into a deep meditation. Anna had little cups of ears which another girl would have tried to hide, but she purposely exposed them, tying back her hair. Jamie liked that. Anna gradually became a bit intoxicated and once put a finger to Jamie’s lips. She smiled and pressed her leg against his and took another swallow of wine.

The dinner ended and everyone dispersed. Anna said good-night and got into a taxi that was in front of the hotel. Jamie walked along the street. She had given him a little nibble on the cheek. Desire set in while he thought about her. The awkwardness of the last girlfriend passed through his thoughts. With Anna, though, he felt that would not happen. They already seemed to have a familiar, warm connection. He knew he was being optimistic but he went ahead and felt that way.

Anna’s apartment building had tall, watery green glass doors, pillars covered with scroll work on each side and, directly above the door, a crested balcony with florid leafing. Jamie parked by the entrance early and checked his watch. He lit a cigarette, cracked the window and half listened to the radio dispatcher rattle off the fares. Then, she was coming towards the cab. She had changed her look so much he had barely recognized her. She wore a smart Russian fur hat, a short coat and lace up black boots. She gave him an address and got in the back. Jamie played along with the formal mood. At a high rise office building where each floor was an identical row of oblique square windows she got out.

A half hour later she was back. “Jamie, let’s go,” she said and climbed into the front and fell back into the seat. “To a bar.”

Snugly arranged in a private booth she tucked a strand of hair behind an ear. After some cozy looks and small talk, a strange finality appeared in her eyes. She downed a few cocktails but as the driver Jamie abstained and instead drank coffee and smoked. She smoked too, one after another.

They continued to go out for drinks after her therapy sessions and other times she would just call to talk. She would go on in a disconnected way about dreams and pet theories and a lot of what she said reminded Jamie of his own disjointed journals. She would not discuss Elias except in vague and cryptic ways. Jamie wanted to make love to her but she would only let him kiss her.

At the bar of a quiet tavern where ceiling fans whirled above, Elias, like a contented and noble ape, gently swished his Martini. He showed his small white teeth and took a healthy gulp. His gaze moved down the bar. “Anna stabbed her therapist,” he said to Jamie and made a little motion like he was chasing off a fly. Jamie looked concerned. Elias placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I was able to settle the incident without any problems. She’ll be away for a while.” Elias paid the bill and they began a slow walk through the city. The architecture they passed seemed jagged and cartoonish to Jamie. Within it he knew was a puzzle of corridors, elevators, escalators, tunnels, lobbies and interlocking buildings that mirrored perhaps the pathways that he felt Elias might open in his mind.

In the morning at the Civic Center BART station, Jamie took a train out to the Mission District. He walked to the diner where he had washed dishes. His history there seemed as though from a previous lifetime. He peered in to see Sammy, the bird man, taking an order. Jamie headed in the direction of two Mexican restaurants he liked but found both to have lines of shivering people out to the street. He walked by a long row of sidewalk vendors. In a bar, vibe cocktail music was coming from an invisible sound system. The seats were covered with black velour. The ghoulish bartender who wore goggle-like glasses was shaking up a drink. A few blocks away he stopped at a place he had wondered about. The food on people’s plates looked okay so he placed an order. When it arrived it looked as if it was from an entirely different restaurant. The gravy like soup was tasteless and the pasta and meatball surrounded in a tomato sauce was tasteless too. He left with an unsatisfied feeling, soon forgotten, his attention turning to the cold.

At his hotel Jamie found that Lou was not at his desk. He sensed that something was wrong. A group of old men gloomily shuffled back and forth in the lobby. Jamie asked where Lou was and one of them stepped over, grasped his arm and told him what he already knew: Lou was dead. Heart attack. One of the men, an oldster with pinkish skin and sunglasses that made him resemble a mutated bug creature, pulled out a blurry photograph. It was of himself, Lou and a smiling stripper at some bar. He made sure everyone looked at the photo again. Jamie climbed the six flights to his room.

The morning was sunny and the temperature had risen ten degrees. At the front desk a Chinese man with a skeletal grin was looking over some papers. Jamie nodded to the new desk clerk and stepped out into the day.

Elias had phoned earlier, asking him to breakfast. The waiter pulled out the table and Jamie sat on the cushiony green leather chair. From the menu he ordered “Skillet potatoes, wood lawn mushrooms, yellow tortillas, oatmeal, with pippin apples and China cinnamon.” The coffee and cream were served in white china, while the freshly squeezed orange juice came frothy in a tall cylinder. The mineral water came in a tulip shaped glass. As Jamie rolled a yellow tortilla Elias gave him his first payment.

“I feel I’ve been chosen for something important,” Jamie said.

“Of course you have.”

“Why me?”

“Your dreams have intersected with mine and the emissaries.”

Jamie recognized that deep in his earliest memory there had been a prelude to all of this. He knew it had always been much more than just a regular dream.

Sitting on the edge of his bed Jamie watched the infrequent mail slide under the door: in this case one envelope, postmarked Thailand. It was from Eric, another cab driver who had gone there to photograph and videotape the bar girls of Pattaya.

Through the blinds Jamie watched the familiar scene of beggars, scavengers and petty criminals. A man in a dumpster, a rag tied around his head wrestled knee deep in wire. In a doorway two black men and a skinny white prostitute smoked crack. One of the men did a chicken dance after his hits. An elderly Chinese woman went through a trash can with a coat hanger. A wreck of a man sat on the curb and looked at nothing. The man in the dumpster moved on, his shopping cart loaded with gray and black coils of wire as though he now carried the head of some urban giantess. He steered the load expertly on down the street.

End of extract

 

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