The Unknown: The Red Line.

Dirk had ordered two Bloody Marys and drank both, with two lit cigars in the ashtray before him. For his second round he ordered a buttermilk—tall—and a filet mignon—rare.

In the men’s room, it starts for Scott as a galaxy of light in the sinuses, a tingling that crackles through the opiate soup, an antiseptic novacaine shot to the jaw, a waterfall of bitter mucous down the back of the throat, a weightless, happy tapdance, and then a rusted, barbed net dragging him into an ocean of pain.

Scott returned to the bar and smoked cigarettes while staring sweating at the stocks scrolling by beneath the tennis match on the TV above the bar.

William smoked a special herbal cigarette he swore to the barmaid was not marijuana but in fact primarily skullcap with sage and a few herbs considered sacred by the Dakota—all legal—which perhaps accounted for its pungent tang.

Scott’s eyes went dead. “We’re ruined, boys. Game over.”

Dirk drained his buttermilk and glanced up at the TV. ASCRAQ, the index of art-related stocks, had dropped fifty points in two seconds.

Scott’s cellphone went off. He yanked it from his suit jacket as if it had bitten him. He stared at it in horror. It rang again. He dropped it in his beer. It sparked and went dead, and a bubble of smoke erupted from the foam.

William scratched his head confusedly. “Does that mean that the Unknown isn’t as good anymore, or..?”

Scott’s pager went off. He threw it to the floor and ground it out beneath a wingtip.

Dirk waved away William’s comment. “That’s just a statistical index of the value of certain commodities.”

Scott climbed off his barstool and stood unsteadily, clawing to loosen his tie. “That’s it, then...” he muttered.

Scott picked up his barstool, slung it over his shoulder, and walked toward the window at the edge of the bar on the top floor of the John Hancock Building, the lights of Chicago an incandescent chasm beneath. William moved to restrain him as Dirk’s steak arrived steaming from the kitchen.

Dirk ordered a ginger beer, soy milk, and a shot of lab alcohol. And two beers for Scott and William. And, as an afterthought, two more beers for himself.

The view was staggering. Scott threw his stool against the window to shatter it so that he might step out into the cold wind and death beyond, but the stool bounced back off the supersealed glass, ricocheting off his skull, and he slumped to the mahogany-tiled floor unconscious, knocking over a potted fern in an arc of soil.

William surveyed his unconscious collaborator, then returned to drink the two beers Dirk had ordered.

Dirk continued to explain finance to William: “ Oh sure, a few big congloms have tried to buy up art, but there just isn’t the money to be made there, and, not surprisingly, good artists make bad employees. There’s issues about content and production time and demeanor.”

”Oh,” agreed William. William then leaned close to Dirk and lowered his voice so their unconscious collaborator, snoring loudly beside the dented brass rail, wouldn’t hear:

”I’m thinking I might try to cash in on this whole Unknown thing,” William explained.

Dirk waved away William’s comment, continuing his earlier thought: “You see, it’s all speculative. None of that art actually exists yet.”


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The Unknown at Spineless Books.