25 March, 2009


On Tuesdays Allen ditched work promptly at five and took Route 11 to the Smash Emporium. The emporium was invite-only, and Tuesday evenings were when Reub scheduled his appointments. It was the perfect workout to get him through the rest of the week, neither too early nor too late.

A few sudden turns put the North Vegas suburbs behind a hill, and the next half hour was rocky terrain, sun-hardened brush, and telephone poles. The setting sun angled through his window, and the hot sun provided the warm-up to his exercise. He’d remove his tie and shirt behind the wheel, putting on a more comfortable tee. He kept a pair of dusty boots beneath the back seat. By the time he reached the manufactured community where the emporium was, a modern marvel of a town with bright green golf courses, quartz blue swimming pool oases, and gleaming white second homes, he was mentally and physically prepared to break as many things as possible.

The Smash Emporium was the foreclosed home of a recessed banker. His partners had gotten a bailout while he had been kicked out, and twenty-four hours later he had blown out his brains. That was in Chicago. He had apparently tried gulping a pint of Drano mixed with brandy mixed with ice, but he had vomited that mixed with blood all over his bathroom. The shock of that hadn’t been enough to change his mind about death. He just used a gun instead. Maybe he didn’t want to clean up the mess. Allen knew this because Reub did, and how Reub knew Allen didn’t know. Reub had snatched up his Nevada vacation estate cheap—the real estate market for an impossible luxury neighborhood in the middle of the desert was plummeting.

The estate was three floors with an attic, a basement, a kidney-shaped pool, a detached two-story garage, a now-dead garden, and a private shooting range. Reub had filled it with other items he got cheap from online auction sites, estate sales, thrift stores, big box discount retailers, and junkyards. He stocked each room according to a theme. An office with a wooden desk, a personal computer, a complicated telephone and fax machine set up. A living room with a flat screen television wired to other expensive electronics. Kitchen cabinets full of dishes, juice glasses, jars of tomato sauce, and gallons of milk. A home library with tall shelves overflowing with books. A car in the garage. Most of it was junk that didn’t work, but none of it looked like junk—the illusion of perfect working condition and affluence was always maintained. And for a high but fixed price, the customer could parade through the house with provided sledge hammers, flasks of lighter fluid, chipped hatchets, and hard fists and break as much as he or she wished in whatever ways thinkable. Unreasonable damage to the house itself was added to the bill, of course. And every week by appointment time the house was restocked to pristine, livable condition with new furniture, unique antiques, and whatever special touches Reub had managed to dig up. He was an artist of interior decoration, a master at recreating polished, functional environments that cried to be destroyed.

“I got something you’ll like,” Reub said, taking Allen into the lobby. “I remember you told me to keep an eye out for something matrimonial. Well, I’ve been putting something together for a couple of months now, ever since then, and well—it’s in the parlor. You can do it first. Or you can work your way up to it. Whatever you want.” He was excited, eager to unveil his newest creation. He always got giddy when he talked about his best new offerings. He prided himself on providing rare, wonderful, and suitable items to annihilate.

But Allen couldn’t jump right into the best part. He needed more mundane situations to blister first. He needed to save the catharsis for last. Reub knew what Allen did for a living, knew that he owned a company that sold audio and video devices to casinos under contract, decking out blackjack tables with tiny flatscreens that blared advertisements and distracted less seasoned players from keeping their attentions on the game. Giant monitors that wailed previews of burlesque shows and musical theater. Reub knew what Allen’s office was like, knew what irritations and stressful environments surrounded him on an average day. Reub knew about all his customer’s destructive fantasies. He sometimes knew what they needed to crush before they knew it themselves.

Allen loved kicking the computer monitor off of the desk, smashing it with his boot. He enjoyed the shattered glass, the finality of the sound it made. The way the shards splayed across the floor. You couldn’t put shattered glass back together. Every week, he also made sure he snapped the keyboard in half, sometimes pulling up on each end with his boot firmly planted in the center, sometimes repeatedly whacking it against the chipped and knicked desk.

He broke the dinner plates one at a time, trying to make music by spacing out the drops. It sounded like playing a cymbal. He took his time beating the refrigerator with a sledge hammer, until the muscles in his arms ached and sweat poured down his back.

Now he was ready for the power zone.

With his heart rate elevated and a healthy flush to his cheeks, he made his way to the parlor, where a wedding banquet awaited him. There was a buffet of gourmet food—glazed chicken and whole fish and steaming vegetables and seasoned rice—aside a stack of plates, with crystal champagne flutes waiting to be filled by heavy, corked bottles over ice. A three-tiered white cake trimmed with red candy roses stood on its own small table, a carving knife laid out beside it. A glittery, white “CONGRATULATIONS!” banner hung on the wall. Beneath a trellis wreathed with lilies stood two mannequins side by side, one in an elaborate white dress and veil, the other in a smashing tux. On a podium before them sat a thick, leather-bound Bible. Bouquets of lilies lined every wall, and folding chairs had been arrayed for an audience to view the blissful mannequin betrothed.

Allen’s first instinct was to strangle the bride, rip apart the dress, and smash the plastic limbs. Maybe give it a few stabs with the carving knife. But he held back. Better yet to first try on the tuxedo. To have a throw at the food and the wine glasses. To give the metal chairs a good beating. In due time the bride could get what she was due.

* * *

When he was out of breath and his muscles burned from the exertion, with endorphins and adrenaline coursing through his blood, he wrote out the check for Reub and waited for him to shut down and lock up the house. The smoke damage from the fire in the parlor would possibly cost him in the future, but it was nothing to worry about. Reub was happy it had been a success.

Reub each night always drove behind his clients back to North Vegas, where he would treat them to some drinks at one of the finer, low-key bars before retiring to his own home. Tourist rarely wandered up to North Vegas, so the bars were relatively unpolluted. The one he liked most had dim chandeliers veiled in maroon shades, glinting liquor bottles climbing to the ceiling, wall-sized mirrors in every direction, plush leather booths into which the clientele sank softly, and lazy jazz whispering from invisible speakers. The waiters wore white suits and all had slicked-back, black hair.

Reub insisted on being friends with all of his customers, on having social time after each session. He wouldn’t treat just any paying strangers to hours of violence; he needed to know that something average and normal occupied a part of all of them. The servers at the bar knew him well and treated him with warmth and respect.

“The thing about engagement is,” Allen explained while sipping at Drambuie, “it gives a woman permission to give up. Before that there’s a certain uncertainty. She doesn’t know if you really like her. And so she’s always trying to impress, at least as much as is reasonably possible. Otherwise, you could just as easily find someone else, some woman who’s got her shit together better. And like that you’re out, no explanation necessary. With engagement, though, comes responsibility. Responsibility on your part. You can’t just say bye-bye anymore. It’s more long-term, and so there’s more of a cushion for her.

“From the time I proposed to Allie to the time of our wedding day seven months later, she had put on so much weight that the ring I had bought her couldn’t even fit on her finger anymore. And let me tell you, she was hot. A redhead. I know, most of them are atrocious, but when you find one that’s attractive, it’s such a rare beauty. Ivory white skin, she had, but not, like, translucent. Not blue or veiny or freckly. Just spotless. And dark auburn hair.

“But then I proposed and she fucking ballooned. Inflated. Like a goddamn beached whale, she looked. Moby Dick, the white whale. That’s what she looked like. And ha ha, how cute, how funny, the ring doesn’t fit, how embarrassing, we’ll just get it refitted soon, ha ha. Right. No ring, no commitment. Soon as it was said and done I hightailed to the farm up in Burkett, fucked as many whores as I could in a seventy-two hour stretch, drove all the way back completely hammered—I don’t even remember the drive, to be honest—and as soon as I was back, I got that shit, that joke, annulled.

“And it’s about self-respect. And it’s about responsibility. And it’s about staying true to your word. There’s a promise in a proposal. It’s not a permission slip to do whatever the hell you please. Allie Franklin. She was a mess, Reub. A goddamn mess.”

He finished his drink and suckled on the ice cubes. He was relaxed. The workout had released a lot of tension, and it felt great to be unwinding with Reub. Reub understood, and he never judged. He saw the banality and frustration of society, knew where the fault lines were, how to erode it and shatter it. He knew what people needed and was honored to provide it. He was of an old style of entrepreneurs, a philanthropist as well as a capitalist, a fulfiller of needs, a provider of goods, a genius of innovation, not unlike Rockefeller or Ford. Humble and proud all at once, a man of strong character.

“I want to thank you again, Reub,” he said. “What you set up was swell. If there were more people like you running things, the world wouldn’t be headed down the hole.”

And they ordered another round of scotches.

* * *

Wednesday morning brought disappointment and vexation. Vandals had broken in, but the security cameras for some reason hadn’t been running, suggesting it could have been an inside job. There had been a lot of layoffs in recent months. Employees had been let go who had been there since the beginning—too expensive to maintain their high salaries in such a weak economy—and so there was much motivation for disgruntled behavior floating around.

Papers lay scattered everywhere, some of them ripped, many of them trampled on. The phones were missing, and the fluorescent light bulbs had been smashed. Most of the computers were busted out. Many of the cords were ripped and frayed.

It was early, and he wasn’t quite awake yet. Confusion and annoyance came naturally, but Allen had to work on building up his anger. They’d sue the security company, of course. What were they paying them for anyway? Everything was insured, so the financial loss wouldn’t be too great, but it would take time to deal with the police, to file the insurance claim, to sort out the mess, to buy new equipment. It was difficult to tell what documents had been stolen, what confidential information had been exposed. Such a waste of valuable time to rebuild and replace, to get everything back to smooth operation, as it was and how it should be. Such an obnoxious bother the disrespectful little shits had caused, to be so irresponsible and selfish, to damage other people’s hard work, to chip away at the foundations of society. He would find the worthless sons of bitches who had done this, and he would wring their goddamn necks.

By lunchtime, when he’d had his coffee and taken some time to think about the mess, he was suitably furious.

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