Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Art Man: Go Boom - By David Eccher

J---- didn’t know how long he would last. He had to die sometime, right? Even not breathing or feeling the cold or the pressure, he had to eat to live.
Oh bother! What if I don’t? What if I can survive forever down here? My clothes will disintegrate, and I’ll be here, a hundred, no a thousand years old, naked, watching the fish world go by.
The predicament came about when his foot became stuck in some sort of metal box. Maybe it wasn’t designed as a trap, but whatever it was, it had a solid hold on his left leg. Hours of pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting and shaking had done nothing. He was as trapped now as when his foot first stepped onto the thing, and he was starting to despair of ever getting loose.
No one will find me here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned walking the ocean floor is that you don’t see many people, do you J----? Not exactly a mall where eventually the janitor will find you, without pants, locked in the Footlocker store room.
That he was talking to himself in the third person was a sure sign he was losing it.  That he remembered the “Footlocker Incident” as it was forever known in his hometown, was a sure sign that he was doomed to relieve every embarrassing memory while stuck on the ocean floor for eternity.
On the surface, Art paced the deck of the cruise ship.
The plan to sell the jewels was not as effective as Art and J---- had imagined it would be. These Northern ports were basically ‘one pawn shop’ towns and J----- did not find a sellers market. Perhaps Ghost Betty had deceived him in giving him lessor pieces from the retrieved treasure, or perhaps 100 years had altered the value in ways a ghost did not understand.  J---- got enough to buy out of his cruise job contract, but not enough to live without a job for very long.
Still, it got him off the boat, which was good for J----, but not so much for Art. Art liked the cruises, and he liked making a living this way, but he liked working with J---- more than working alone, and way more than working with the next crewman assigned to him: D-Bag.
Donnato Baccio, the name itself a misspelled bastardization of Italian, was a bastard. Maybe he stopped listening to people when the kids in school teased him as “Donna”. Maybe he picked up the trait from his asshole family, maybe he was just as asshole himself, but D-Bag never listened. All arguments over D-Bag doing his job incorrectly, bringing the wrong item, being there at the wrong time, ended with “I did what you said, old man. Learn to talk better next time.”
And not just to Art. D-Bag called everyone he didn’t listen to ‘old man’, and D-bag didn’t listen to anyone. He happily and obliviously trounced all around the ship, sipping from his secret flask that everyone knew about. He came on board calling himself “Donny the Man, or D-Man for short”, but all the crew quickly changed that to D-Bag, and D-Bag never objected, because, well, D-Bag wasn’t listening.
Art sales weren’t as good with D-Bag helping. At first, Art tried to coach him along, but quickly gave up on that. The simple solution, it turned out, was to get any woman on board to say hello to D-Bag while walking away. For a small stipend (more if he had to ask the same person to do it again), a woman would walk by the space where D-Bag was ‘helping’ set up the sales session, make eye contact, say hello, and keep walking. D-Bag would disappear for the night. If she was lucky, and somewhat nimble afoot, D-Bag would never catch-up to her, but he would still never come back to the session. If he did catch-up to her, well those are the ones Art had to apologize to and who would never do it again, no matter how much Art offered.
Once he had bought his way off the boat, J---- kept trying ways to find another treasure, or at least to meet another ghost. He visited museums, monuments, points of interest, points of little interest, buoys of no interest, and historical markers of no particular significance to anyone still living. He walked the ocean floor in areas of known shipwrecks, in areas of suspected shipwrecks, and in areas of no shipwrecks (though these side trips were usually due to wrong turns and the lack of waterproof maps.)
After much frustration, he made his way back to “Aunt Betty’s Bordello and Music Hall”, hoping to learn something more from Ghost Betty.
“Betty, I just thought there would be more ghosts and treasures.”.
“Not everyone becomes a ghost, you know,” she admonished him. “It is a special thing, just like you Water Walker. Only a few of the living ever become ghosts, and fewer still offer anything of value.”
“I didn’t think of it that way. Sorry,” he said, and began to mope his way out of the same room where they had first met. “Guess I’ll have to go back to looking for work.”
“But there are a few of us,” she said, appreciating the company and wishing to keep him talking longer. The novelty of visiting her beloved treasures every day had begun to wear off, and she longed for a new task, now that the burden of the old one had been fulfilled.
“And you know them?” J---- asked, hopefully.
“For Pete’s Sake, what, you think everybody in New York knows everybody else in New York? It is a damn big world out there!”
J----’s face flushed with embarrassment, again.
“But!”, Ghost Betty exclaimed, a bit embarrassed that she had once again lost her ghost temper. When one goes such long stretches without talking to anyone, it is easy to forget the proper way of doing so.
“But,” she continued, more calmly now. “I recall a story from my childhood. A story about a thief with a lost, haunted treasure. I think that book is still here.”
“Butt!” J---- exclaimed, as an inexplicably pantsless child ran across the doorway, pursued by a flustered mother.
“Butter!” Art exclaimed, looking at all the packets of mayonnaise that D-Bag had brought him. “All I wanted for my sandwich was butter.”
“Learn to talk better, old man.”
Art contemplated tying several very large paintings to D-Bag and throwing him overboard. This had three possible outcomes. One, D-Bag has powers like J---- and walks the ocean. Unlikely, but not impossible. Two, D-Bag dies and Art lives the rest of his life in prison, where there were probably worse d-bags than D-Bag. Three, D-Bag lives and gets his uncle, not coincidentally a powerful member of many businesses, including being on the Board of Directors for this cruise line, to make life hell for Art.
He chose instead to speak to management about perhaps reassigning D-Bag away from Art’s area. That worked, but not in the way Art intended.
“Butera! Butera will have my ass!,” was the phrasing the manager used, referring to Richard Butera, D-Bag’s well placed uncle. “If I bust him down or give him a job he doesn’t like, I’ll end up transferred to a shit kicking job on a farm in Butte.”
So the manager promoted D-Bag into a made up position: Manager of Security for Personal Floatation Devices and Storage Spaces. The job had no discernible responsibilities, yet swelled D-Bag’s head even more, as he would now march about the ship, sipping his flask more openly, and yelling at anyone opening a closet or looking at a floatation device.
“Barnacles,” J---- thought. “Mermaids,  barracudas, and barnacles.”
Sitting endlessly on the ocean floor did strange things to a man’s mind.
The most frustrating thing was that J---- was certain he was near the site of the treasure he had learned about with help from Ghost Betty. Her childhood book was a fanciful tale of a Gold Rush pirate named Captain Kroc. It was silly swashbuckling variation on Robin Hood, set in the great Northwest. Kroc, the hero, takes on cartoonishly evil men, tricks them out of their ill gotten gains, gives the riches back to the miners and prospectors, marries the beautiful maiden, and disappears without a trace, promising to return if needed again.
Ghost Betty, during her days as an adult ‘entertainer’, with an ear trained for listening to secrets and hidden desires, kept hearing bits of stories repeated. These various forms and tidbits led her to think maybe there was truth underlying the children’s tale, in a tangled mess of half-truth and fancifulness.
In the book, a great fortune turns on the spin of a gambling wheel. In her Dance Hall, drunken card players would wax on about a mythical poker game in which a chest of gold was lost and won.
Other players had a version in which the card game was a diversion, a strip poker game used to keep guards occupied while a robbery occurred.
And more than one sensitive soul who paid for time in her bed shared the story of a haunted saloon that had been the site of notorious gold robbery.
The beautiful maiden in the story, she presumed, was actually a prostitute at the saloon (god knows the number of men who wanted to treat her as a helpless maiden and save her from this life.)
And the name Kroc, even, might have come from Crocker, a notorious rich asshole that built railroads during the California Gold Rush. There was rumour at the time, as Betty heard from her clients, that a disgruntled nephew had been behind the heist, but had lost his life, and the goods, during his escape.
Piecing together the story lead J---- and Ghost Betty to an abandoned prospector encampment in the Pacific Northwest.
“Well, a ghost town probably has some ghosts,” J---- said, optimistically.
“Well, sometimes I hate people,” said Ghost Betty, reconsidering her desire for conversation.
“Bumbershoots,” exclaimed J----, as he fell backwards after being startled by small rodent.
Betty watched the mouse scurry across the path and disappear into a hole beneath the door of a decrepit building. She passed through the deteriorating wall, then reappeared to J---- after a short time.
“The good news is, despite yourself, you were right, there is a ghost here.”
“And is there bad news?” J---- asked, dusting himself off.
“He’s an imbecile.”
Ghost nephew ‘sat’ at what once was the main feature of this tiny room, a wooden table covered with the remnants of everything from decayed eating utensils to web covered playing cards. Ghost nephew (she never could get him to offer up a name, perhaps he did not understand the question) hovered by the table, repeatedly, and uselessly, trying to pick up a playing card.
“Just need another Jack,” he moaned.
“Excuse me, sir”, J----said, trying to get his attention.
“That will be useless,” Ghost Betty said. “This is the only way that will work.”
Ghost Betty floated between the table and Ghost Nephew and bared her breasts, causing J---- to stumble backwards and fall to his backside while covering his eyes.
“Oh for the love of Poseidon you clumsy child, they are just breasts. And dead ones at that.”
Ghost Betty returned her attention to Ghost nephew, who had stopped pawing at the playing card and was now pawing at Ghost Betty, his hand passing through her body as ghostly drool dripped from his mouth.
“Yes, big boy. Oooo. Oooo. Touch me again,” she said with a dead eyed stare. “You are such a fascinating man. It’s just incredible how brilliantly fascinating you are, with your stories of daring and treasure.”
“Boobies,” was the extent of Ghost nephew’s reply.
“Yes, boobies are treasure too. Do you want more boobies? Tell me where your treasure is and you can have all the boobies you want.”
“Go BOOM.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. If you tell me where it went boom, I can help you get it back and then you can have all the treasure and all the boobies.”
“Yes, you are an imbecile.”
J----, staring at a wall and trying not to blurt out ‘boobies’, had a moment of revelation.
“Oooooooooooooooooooooooooo,” J---- said.
“Hey, Water Walker, keep it in your pants, I am trying to conduct business here.”
“No, not that,” he stuttered, turning red. “I mean, yes that, you are lovely, and ghostly, and I really appreciate you as a friend, and I respect your chosen profession, and I would never ever blurglesnorff heminahemina...”
“Focus, Walker! Spit it out before you stain your pants.”
“Book! The book,” J---- shouted, working to overcome his flusterations. “Your children’s book had a big ‘Ka-Boom’.”
“Yes, I know. So in what way does that help us?”
“There was a ship, an insignificant fishing vessel, mentioned in the reports we read from that year, the year of Ghost drooler, egads he is disgusting, his robbery and escape, there was a fishing boat that exploded mysteriously.”
“Go boom?” Ghost nephew was now undoing his ghost pants.
“Hold on there, big boy. No money, no ‘go boom’, she admonished.
“Fishing boats don’t have much on them that can explode,” J---- continued. “Maybe drooly there was on it trying to escape?”
As soon as Ghost Betty moved away from Ghost nephew, he returned to his ‘poker game.’
“Well, let’s track that boat down then,” she said.
“Butterscotch!”, J---- thought when repeated attempts to free his leg failed.
He was never comfortable with cursing, so even in this predicament, his distracted thoughts were mostly nonsense cussing. Dang, and poopsters, and polly-wants-a-cracker took the place of the usual expressions of frustration.
It was easy to lose track of time under the water. He sometimes would walk the ocean floor for what he thought was an afternoon, when it turned out to be a day and a night. So he was quickly losing track of how long he had been stuck here. When a creature would swim by, he would ‘talk’ to it, hoping for a friendly crustacean or even a smiling shark to help pass the time. There are only so many times you can sing “Under The Sea” in your own head and retain a semblance of sanity.
Under the sea
Under I see
Ghostly encounter
Poopies the shouter
Make it frosty
Up on the deck they swab away
Art is the bun hamburger day
While D-Bag fartin’
My favorite Martian
Under the sea

Maybe this power of his was a curse instead of a blessing.
“Buffoonery,” Betty said, well, thought, into J---’s head.
“Betty!” you have no idea how glad I am to see you!”
“What kind of ridiculousness have you gotten yourself into here?”
“Well, my foot is stuck in this, this thing here. I’ve been stuck here for days and I thought I was going to be here forever until you arrived. Please help me to get out?”
“Days? You just left me hours ago.”
“Oh my, how time sinks when I’m sunk.”
Ghost Betty gently shook her head and extended her hand to him.
“Of course, poor Water Walker who can’t walk. Here, take my hand.”
J---- reached for her extended hand, which passed right through his.
“Bwhahaha,” Ghost Betty mocked. “You know I can not touch anything. What help did you think I was going to be able to give.”
If J---- could cry under water, he would have.  
“Oh, Billhilly woodpeckers,” he cursed. “How in Jiminy Crickets am I supposed to get my leg free?”
“Have you tried...” and she proceeded to list all of the ways he had already tried dozens of times over: “shaking, pulling, twisting, looking for a button, hitting, poking, pushing, kicking, dancing...”
“Well, how am I to know? I haven’t touched anything in a hundred years.”
Disheartened in the extreme, J---- slapped his forehead and started falling backwards, his leg pained as it was stuck in a rather upright orientation. As his tookus headed for the ground behind him, a latch was sprung and his foot popped out of the box.
“Sitting,” Ghost Betty asked. “Have you tried sitting?”
“Blimey, I hadn’t thought of that.”
Now freed, J---- was easily able to locate the ‘’treasure chest’. It was not a chest at all, but rather one of those huge, old time safes that trainrobbers had to blow open with dynamite in movie Westerns. The Crocker nephew had indeed stolen something, safe and all, but failing to open it, decided to blow it up. On a wooden ship. He was such an imbecile. So here it was, still closed, and extraordinarily heavy, on the bottom of the ocean.  
I wanna be where safes are open
I wanna see, wanna see what’s inside
I've got water and seaweed a-plenty
I've got ghost-tits and damp-nuts galore
You want incredulous?
I've got twenty!
Walking around with these - what do you call 'em?
Oh - POOP!

The singing didn’t help J---- lift the safe, and he once again fell backwards and sat on the ocean floor.
“I think I’m gonna need some help with this.”
To get the safe off the ocean floor, J---- figured it would take all of the floatation devices he could possible attach to it. They wouldn’t float it to the surface, but perhaps they would give enough buoyancy to allow him to carry it.
“Buoyancy! Good plan,” Art said, when J---- returned to the ship, the only nearby source of floatation devices he could think of. “But there is a hitch in the old D-Bag.”
Art explained that with D-Bags new ‘position’ getting a load of floatation devices off the ship would require some subterfuge...
D-Bag was walking the deck, yelling at doors, when a woman he had never before seen seemed to float by. She turned to look at him, winked, and then disappeared. D-Bag, predictably, followed her.
“Pssst. Over here,” Art beckoned from his cabin door.
“What is it old man? I’m busy.”
“She’s in here, you d-bag, I mean, D-Bag. You up for a game of poker with her?”
Inside Art’s cabin, Ghost Betty floated by the table while Art explained the rules.
“Simple 5 Card draw, nothing wild, no gimmicks. Losing hand takes off a piece of clothing. And...,” Art paused to make sure he had D-Bag’s attention. “Any time anyone says anything rude, they have to drink a shot.”
“I don’t want to see you naked, old man.”
Art rolled his eyes. Again.
“First, I’m not playing for me. As I explained, she can’t touch the cards so I will have to hold the cards for her to play her hand. Second, ‘old man’ is rude, so drink up.”
Unsurprisingly, D-Bag was not a good poker player. He had no patience and consistently went for long shot draws. When he didn’t get them, he would curse and shout rude things, which earned him a drink, and made his game worse.
Scarcely an hour after the game had started, Ghost Betty was floating around the cabin in old tyme undergarments, playfully teasing Art with flashes of flesh. And D-Bag was naked, puking over the side of the ship, as passengers and crew posted pictures to social media.
Meanwhile, J---- had a closet full of floatation devices safely smuggled overboard.
Carrying the safe was comical. J---- looked like a balloon vendor, walking along the ocean floor. He could only get it as far as shallow water, but Art arranged for assistance in getting it to land, and open.
This treasure, being gold coins, proved much more useful in turning J---- into a rich young man. He bought a cute little beach house on the East coast of the U.S., a much larger beach house on the Western shore of South Africa, and a large boat, complete with crew, to take him anywhere he didn't feel like walking.
Ghost Betty enjoyed her newfound distraction of swindling idiots in poker games, and Art, never afraid to date an older woman, was glad to be her partner. It was, after all, a good career move.
‘D-Bag’ Donnato Baccio, or “The Nude Puker”, as he was now known world-wide, did not enjoy farm work in Butte Montana, and all the farm animals hated him, too.
Ghost nephew never managed to pick up that Jack, but he is still trying...   

Missed part 1 & 2? You can read it here: Part 1 Part 2
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1 comment:

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