Novella: Gargoyles

“We were staying in Paris / To get away from your parents / You look so proud / Standing there with a frown and a cigarette / Posting pictures of yourself on the Internet” — The Chainsmokers, Paris, 2017

“I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s” — Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance, 1879

“And it’s oh so cool outside / If you lend me a dollar, I can buy some gas / And we can go for a little ride” — Elvis, Bossa Nova Baby, 1963

“Got no human grace your eyes without a face / Such a human waste your eyes without a face” — Billy Idol, Eyes Without A Face, 1983

Chapter 1

1.

The evil little boy had the touch. He tortured animals and then made them come back to life with the press of a finger. Once he cut the head off a pigeon, re-animated it, and made it strut headlessly in a circle before collapsing helplessly into the sand once again. Oh, he was evil, was our boy.

His name was Max Tremolo.

His adult psychiatrist was Tom Premuzic. Tom had long bangs and drank water frequently. When Max was on the sofa, Tom stared pensively at the disturbing little apparition before him. Max told the same stories again and again. About how he hated the world. About how he hoped his mother got raped and died. Violent fantasies. Vicious thoughts. A black gleeful emotion ladling all over the bunch of them.

Tom Premuzic knew it wasn’t professional of him to have such negative feelings about a patient of his, especially one so young — eight years old — but he couldn’t help it. The boy gave him the jitters. The boy would never meet his eyes head-on. Young Max Tremolo stared distantly, or he locked his gaze on the framed photo of the Eiffel Tower at night. Ah, Paris. What a city to have madmen in!

They were in the American Quarter. Since the nuking of Brooklyn in 2112, countless Manhattanites had crossed the ocean to the welcoming arms of Old France. So many settled in one area of Paris that it became known simply as the American Quarter.

While Max Tremolo prattled on his boyishly hateful speech, Tom’s mind turned to Max’s mother, Edith. She had stunning breasts. They were perfect, D-cup biggies, made to be held and fondled . . . Tom licked his lips. Tom was a married man, but his wife had only B cups. Disappointing, to say the least.

But the D cups! The stuff of life itself. Tom had seen those beauties naked once. In the early stages of his psychological relationship with Max, he had gone over to her small house to deliver a bill. He had meant to explain to her in person that payment had to be prompt. Edith, the D cup Amazon, had immediately undone her bra in front of him, flashing those glories. “Is this prompt enough?” she said in French-accented English. She was only 24, too. Not a sag in ’em.

Edith Tremolo was no huge psychological mystery to Tom Premuzic. She was a single mother who had gotten impregnated by the French mailman when she was only 16, giving birth to one monster named Max. Over the years, even as a squalling infant, the child had chased away more men from those life-giving D cups than could be counted. Tom knew. Edith had complained bitterly about the nature of men and the plight of single mothers. It was then that Tom knew he could have a huge-titted woman under his thumb and under his beck and call. It was Edith whom Tom wanted as a French mistress. As an American, he had become accustomed to French culture, and this was by far his favorite aspect. Mistresses. Better than French food.

“Tell me about your mother,” Tom interrupted suddenly, jolting Max out of his prattling reverie. “She’s a very beautiful woman. Why would you want her hurt?”

Max sneered. “So the good-looking ones escape bad shit, eh? How like a typical American.”

The kid really was brilliant. 8 years old but could easily talk like an adolescent when he wanted.

Tom ignored the jibe and pressed forward. “You said once” — he checked his notes — “you wanted your mother dismembered and eaten by crocodiles. You used the French word for crocodiles. Do you still believe this, Max?”

For once, Max looked at him and Tom regretted it. There was something unsettling swirling deep in those mild brown kid’s eyes, a genuine form of craziness that Tom had rarely seen in the flesh. Max was not a normal boy. He gave off crazy lightning bolt vibes of stay away, stay away that had driven off so many men interested in the mother. So much hate bundled into such a small form! Max lurched off the sofa and the kid began pacing the small, comfortable room in Tom’s luxurious flat.

Max gestured like Napoleon. “I choose to believe my mother is a slut. Sluts are, by nature, evil. I am a child. I am, by nature, good. I am suffering under her rule.”

“Not all children are good,” Tom said, and instantly was appalled at himself. Did he really believe this? A grown man, casting judgment on the psychologically unformed? And yet, wasn’t Max Tremolo formed in some strange way? A hard nut at his center, giving motive force to his wishes and petulant demands. Max was the ultimate brat who knew his power over people. People didn’t like social messes. They would do anything to avoid disturbances of a public nature. Max could throw himself on the ground and beat the floor with clenched fists with the best of them, all in a bid to get what he wanted. Although Tom didn’t know about Max’s ability to animate things, he suspected there was something deeper to the boy, something that made him actively . . . dangerous. Yes, dangerous. If Max got mad at you, he would hurt you — kill you, if he could. Revenge and Max were a spicy dish made in heaven.

Or perhaps hell.

Tom was drawn from these thoughts by Max plopping himself back down on the couch, poking at a hole in one of his smelly socks before stretching out again.

“Mr. Premuzic, why did you come to France? This is my homeland, not yours.”

“I thought you were of Italian descent.”

“And I thought you were of Croatian descent.”

Italian: bad. Croatian: amoral, or, perhaps, in the right light, good.

Uncharacteristically, Tom stood and put his arms behind his back. “Max, I’ll be frank. I’m worried about you. I’ve been seeing you steadily for six months now, and you’ve made little-to-no progress. The nature of your mind would frighten most people, your mother included. She’s worried that, as you grow older, you’ll make irretrievable mistakes. Mistakes that would put you on the wrong side of the law.”

“The gendarmes,” Max spat viciously.

“Since I last saw you, your mother has reported that you’ve begun beating up children on the playground. You broke one playmate’s ankle by stomping on it, jumping up and down. She had to beg the principal not to evict you from school. How do you explain all this?”

Max was silent. He didn’t like to be accused. J’accuse was supposed to be him doling it out to other people. Not him on the receiving end. Never. Never.

Tom poured himself a glass of Canadian spring water from a pitcher and took a sip. He sat down, folding his legs. “C’mon, Max. What’s on your mind? Why are you so angry all the time? You have a . . . pretty good life.”

Max’s teeth moved. His tongue followed slightly behind. He spat out: “People.”

“People. What about people?”

“There’s so many of them. Stinking up the area. Always gabbling. There’s never a quiet moment, Doctor Premuzic.”

“Please call me Tom.”

Tom,” Max snarled. “Do you know what it’s like to go home and know your mother masturbates incessantly? She needs a man yet she cannot get one. This rubs her the wrong way totally. Mother is selfish. Mother is beautiful. She is a selfish, beautiful, masturbating slut. How I hate her! I must be gone from her house! And soon, before I –” He fell silent.

“Before you what, Max Tremolo?”

“Nothing,” Max muttered. “Nothing at all. I got ahead of myself.”

In years, maybe, Tom thought darkly.

“This concludes today’s session,” Tom Premuzic said, checking the digital clock above Max’s little tousled-brown-haired head. “We’ve made progress. Sometimes it takes an explosive emotion to bring out the truth.” The truth is you’re a dangerous little bastard and I still want to fuck your mother before Dawn gets home from work at the embassy.

Max was putting on his little shoes, ignoring the psychiatrist’s words.

As he tied himself up, Tom took a chance. “Max, I’d like to meet with your mother. Do you think you could mention it to her?”

Looking down, not making eye contact, Max nodded.

“And tell her I’m very much looking forward to meet her again.”

Max looked up suspiciously.

“My mother” — he said — “masturbates too much to summon much interest in you, Mr. Premuzic.”

On those cold, eerie words, the boy marched out of the room to catch a bus back to his little house, leaving Tom thinking.

2.

Do I really want to bring this on myself?

The issue was control. A girl in Edith’s situation would have zero options. None. Unless she strangled her boy in the tub, and was rid of him, she would have a shitty dating life until the boy grew up, which would be sometime in the mid-2150s.

So: control. He could control those luscious titties, make them his own, fulfill pleasures and fantasies he dared not bring up with Dawn, who was a proper American bitch. Yes, time for some frank thinking: Dawn, his beloved wife, had turned into a full-bore, full-blown, full-cunted case of a bitch.

Tom Premuzic recalled a book titled Men Love Bitches, and snorted to himself. What a man wanted was some pleasant feminine companionship. Edith Tremolo wasn’t really that, but her situation made her that. She could serve sexually on her hands and knees because she had no other choice. Dawn Premuzic had options, being an American Embassy worker with full diplomatic immunity. Technically, she could shoot him and get away with it.

Technically.

Tom stood up and his thoughts turned jagged, broken like glass, at the haunting afterimage of Max Tremolo. People, the boy had spat. People are the problem.

Everyone got pissed off at his fellow man now and then, but the boy’s case was psychotic. And what was he hiding? There was a big secret there, waiting to be uncovered. Once the boy had said My powers— and fell silent, embarrassed. What powers did an 8-year-old bring to the table? The power to be an unsufferable brat? Tom thought.

He sipped at a fresh glass of water.

Well, the die was cast. He wanted the young woman and he would have her. Fortune favors the bold, and all that.

3.

Max crept into the morgue. His hands were low to his hips.

It was the biggest morgue in the biggest hospital in Paris. You could get lost in here. He was aiming to reanimate a dead corpse and see what would happen next. He had never gone so far and now was the time.

The morgue was a chilled refrigerated room 100 by 30 meters. 300 feet by 100 feet, it lay at a slant to the main hospital. The morgue had been built in the 1960s when the city had been flush with cash; now, in 2143, it badly needed an overhaul. It had been upgraded several times since then, computerized and automated.

There they were, holograms in front of closed doors. Each hologram was a resting body. Max thought of cemeteries and Halloween toilet paper and masks and decaying feet with curled yellow toenails.

Max was thinking to himself.

Which body do I want to re-animate?

Pick any at random for all it matters. Just go to it. Don’t dawdle, there may be a security presence somewhere around here.

What about this guy that looks like Uncle Sam, the symbol of America? The one with the spade white beard and tousled hair lying at locker 34-E.

It seemed to him that the voice that would come to him was not his own voice. He wasn’t schizophrenic, he just had an interior dialogue with himself, question-and-answer format. The answers were tinged with evil. He built up a powerful mind incentive structure by getting the questions asked and answered darkly.

The dark answer came right away. I like it. Try touching him about or on the heart.

Max hesitated.

Will it work?

Yes, probably. Every other time we’ve tried something, something happened.

Max came up on the body of Uncle Sam. The man was lying with his arms at his sides, his eyelids closed. Max found the heart without too much difficulty, and pressed down hard, corkscrewing the finger in motion.

The corpse lurched up. It swung its legs off the metal table and said, looking at Max, “Brains?” Its voice was creaky and old. It licked its lips.

“Not me,” Max said impatiently. He was getting a strange double-vision. It was as if he could see through his own body — and through Uncle Sam’s eyesight as well. The focus sharpened, and indeed there were two visions playing in the center of his mind.

Uncle Sam left the morgue, leaving the swinging door brushing back and forth on the floor, the rubberized bottom of the door making a shhh, shhhhhh sound.

There was a man in a suit with a car-briefcase in his hand. His briefcase slipped and he stopped to pause for adjustments of the briefcase. When he looked up the elevator doors were closing. The elevator door closed just in his face.

Uncle Sam eyed this businessman-pedestrian.

Then it lurched forward, dead set on getting meat. Human meat.

The man was patiently staring at the elevator doors, having hit the reset button on the elevator. Suddenly something powerful gripped him from behind and wrenched his neck around. His tendons were stretched out of line and his neck almost broke, but unfortunately for him, mercy was not on his side. The zombie bit down on the businessman’s eyelids — Max could see it all in intricate detail from the morgue — and penetrated his eyes. The man screamed and beat at the zombie with one free hand and the other holding the briefcase. The zombie began eating the man’s brains through his eyelids. Max tasted the salty-olivey flavor of the brains in his mind and made a disgusted, gagging sound, but still he didn’t choose to disengage with his zombie.

Fifteen minutes later, the businessman’s brains had all been scooped out of his skull, and the zombie — Uncle Sam in just shorts — was seated against the wall, holding onto a bulging belly.

Max Tremolo scored one for his side.

4.

Max was drawn to the church despite his atheism. Max thought:

Should we go inside the entrance?

Let’s.

The doors were thrown wide open and there was plenty of room inside. Christianity was dead in Europe, and had been for two hundred or more years.

Max loved churches. More specifically, he loved gargoyles, those stone beasts with wings and scowling expressions that seemed the embodiment of strong evil.

Strong = evil. Young = weak. How to get from the second equation back to the first, so that young = strong? The answer: be evil. Be very evil.

Max snuck up behind a priest and said “Boo!” The man jumped and spun around. “Mon dieu, you surprised me,” said the priest, a dark-haired man in his thirties.

Max smiled charmingly as he could. “Father, I can perform miracles. Would you like to see?”

The French priest looked downcast. “There are no miracles in these benighted times. Only the dire emptiness of life itself.”

Max crooked a finger and beckoned the priest to follow him.

There, in the stained glass, was a picture of Jesus carrying a cross on his strong right shoulder. The image was frozen in time and space, but Max could change that. The crowd of people behind Jesus almost seemed to be cheering Jesus on. Yes, Max thought, let’s have them cheer him. The boy caressed the stained glass twice. On his third cross, the people in the stained glass began to move.

Began to move.

Little figures, jumping up and down in excitement. The hot desert sun beating down on Golgotha. Jesus turning up his face to the sun, a larger figure than the rest. The priest was looking on in wonder.

Then, abruptly, Max Tremolo took his hand away and the image reasserted itself, reverting back to its original form: tiny spectators and a resigned Jesus. For a moment though Jesus had looked strengthened, self-aware, God-like . . .

“That was wonderful!” the priest breathed. “How did you do that?”

“I have a gift,” 8-year-old Max said modestly.

“Are you the new Jesus?” the priest said in a trembling voice, reaching out to touch the youngster.

Max dodged the physical contact like a reverse thief. “I may be. I need some money to fulfill my potential. Can you lend me fifty euros?”

The priest, trembling, took out a billfold containing a single 50-euro note and held it for a moment. “Are you Satan, then?”

“Satan? Me? Satan is bad. Do I look bad?”

The priest passed over the money and Max greedily took it.

“Come home to dinner with me, then,” the priest said. “Break bread with my family. And I will know then.”

“I’m Jesus,” Max said with a toothy smile.

“I knew it! Come with me . . .” But Max was already fleeing from the church as if its presence was burning him, throwing hot anointed oil on his shoulders.

Max wandered the streets of the American Quarter. The signs here were mostly in English. The French government had tried hard to impress French on the newcomers, but the Anglos blissfully resisted this. Max got some sweets from a pastry shop and was chewing over them as he spotted a dead ant on the road.

To practice, he animated it, and tried to make it grow in size. The ant doubled in size before running off behind a bush, but that was all. Max gritted his teeth. He wanted a giant ant, like those from the mutant movies of the 1950s decadent American culture. Why could the Americans get all the good stuff, and he got nothing, nothing? A person of his power should be respected and kowtowed to. He should get all the good stuff.

Like a good mother. Like Dawn Premuzic.

Max sighed in love. There was a warm woman, kind to him to a fault. Whenever Tom stepped out, Dawn would sneak in with cookies and milk and a sweet word or two. She genuinely liked him. Max snarled. Unlike his own mother, that slattern. That wicked, wicked woman. And to think, she was afraid of him! Max bit into his croissant, ripping it with little nipping teeth. Mommy was really scared of him, alright. The truth was, that fact kinda pleased Max Tremolo. He liked playing the little Caesar, dominating, challenging. Sometimes he imagined himself in the mirror wearing a general’s outfit, like Napoleon Bonaparte in the early years when he was young . . . Max had had a hamster called Napoleon. He had disappeared one day that Max was really angry. Mother was frightened, then. She had good reason to be frightened. He would turn his hate disease on her one day and . . . and . . .

Max rubbed his hands.

Everything in good time. Good things come to he who waits.

5.

That night Max had a dream. He was standing atop a thousand-foot-tall cathedral of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and raising his hands to the night sky. His intent: to call down lightning from the heavens, enough lightning to erase Paris and leave a big stinking black hole in its place. Then a naked figure with big tits crawled up the side of the cathedral like a human crab. Edith.

“You’re beautiful,” she said soundlessly. “You’re my beautiful male child. Firstborn. Best-loved.”

“Liar!” Max thundered and the clouds flashed with suppressed light. “You lie to me, slut!”

“Okay, fine. I hate you and fear you. You destroy my dating life. You’re like a little ant that deserves — needs — to be stepped on. I’m coming for you, my boy! Coming to step on your with my giant foot!”

And Max saw that Mommy has transformed her feet into big pink three-toed flippers that slapped on the ancient meshing stonework of the building. The sound it made was transfixing. Max couldn’t run and Mother was coming for him, coming for him . . .

6.

He awoke with a cold sweat on his forehead. Checking the Disney clock at his side, he saw it was 2:45 in the morning. He could hear mother snoring from here. Why did she insist on sleeping so close to him? Was it some disgusting pedophiliac thing? Max wondered. He pushed himself out of his bed and went to go take a pee.

As he stood there — something his mother hated but did so in silent disapproval — holding his wee-wee, and letting go, he mused about Tom Premuzic. Dawn deserved better than Tom. She deserved a big boy like Max in her life. Max Tremolo could be her new husband. Sure, there was an age difference — Dawn was thirty-five, and Max was eight — but love transcended all boundaries, wasn’t that what the movies said?

He finished peeing and flushed the toilet. The snoring stopped for a moment and then resumed. Wish I woke you up, Max thought viciously. Slut, slut. You’ll never get me. I won’t let you.

He picked up a comic book of Spider-Man and amused himself by animating the web-slinger on its pages for two hours flat. Then he fell asleep with the comic book tented open over his face and the lights fully on in his large bedroom, big enough for two kids, sufficing for one large monster.

Chapter 2

The French Ministry of Education had awarded the three Premuzic brothers with prizes. Fast Eddie, 14, got the top athlete prize for his district, the American Quarter. Sebastian Premuzic, 16, received an award for completing the most books in his grade, also in the district. And little Jerzy, age 7, found himself holding the Explorer’s Medallion for searching out more of Paris than any other kid on record.

They sat around the dinner table, waiting for mom to come. Tom had cooked Thai shrimp noodle platters for all of them (he was an expert cook) and this repast was waiting in the heater.

On the camera, they watched the Arc de Triomphe, which grew out of the parkland directly above their flat. In 2075, the roads leading underneath the Arc had been converted to park status by unanimous decree of the Paris city council. With flying cars a reality, there as no need for land-based travel anymore.

Jerzy, with his sharp eyes and kid’s aggression, was the first to spot the California Motors Hummingbird coming down out of the sky. It was nine feet long and deep metallic green in color. Shaped aerodynamically, it vaguely looked like it had two permanently folded wings.

Dawn Premuzic landed on the Arc de Triomphe. Better than squashing grass and bushes below. She wiggled her car’s bottom and eased forward into a supine position lying there on top of the monument.

She got out of the car.

Then she folded it.

First the front end folded under the bumper, shrinking as it went. A glowing tesseract surrounded the car, a nimbus of light. She smoothed the middle part with her hands. Folding the back end into the middle, the car had shrunk to the size of a briefcase, which it was. Whistling, she grasped the handle and lifted the light weight. Somewhere in another dimension the Hummingbird was waiting.

Dawn rode the elevator thinking of Sebastian Premuzic.

She had been nineteen when she had Sebastian. She still thought it was the perfect age to have a child. He had come out cute and fully formed. Ten wriggling fingers. The usual toes. She tried sucking on them shortly after birth — but he kicked!

In the years since, he had grown into his own unique being. He loved books, sure, but he was social as well, a good talker. Fast Eddie competed with him in the tongue department for who could talk the best. Sebastian was already growing his voice into a radio DJ’s smooth, deep patter — and in fact he modeled it after the French-speaking DJs from outside the American Quarter. All the kids spoke French with their friends, but English at home. Sebastian thought English was a more powerful language, with more versatile ways to say things. He looked at the French translations of things, and often they didn’t say quite what the English said — or the same thing nearly at all.

Jerzy was the pale one in the family. He had strong Slavic genes, with green eyes and a light smattering of freckles around his nose. Dawn Premuzic had been born French and she gave some of her background to the Croatian genetic complement of her husband’s children. Her maiden name was Boiselles. She was tenth-generation Parisien and came from a lineage so ancient it had forgotten its origins half a dozen times over time.

Now the elevator stopped at the bottom of the Arc, just underground. There was a concourse here, a vast sheet of concrete steps and escalators leading down. There were two escalators, one going up, one going down. Purple lighting was highlit in the center of the concrete concourse. The escalators hummed as they moved. Dawn put her hand on the railing for support and carried the car in her other hand. Descending, she moved into the shadows. For some reason this part of the underground apartment complex was always poorly lit. She thought it was to make it look like a film noir movie set. The French loved their atmospherics.

This gigantic complex, a circle shaped to mirror the Arc parkland above, had been originally built to house Third World refugees. The French, realizing their mistakes with their Algerian immigrants, had designed spacious, beautiful homes for newcomers. Then the disaster of 2112 struck, with Americans fleeing their disaster zone in large numbers. The French, hoping to get stock market money and power from Wall Street, opened their “refugee homes” to the Americans. For Manhattan residents used to tiny abodes, the American Quarter had countless nice homes waiting to be occupied. By 2114, construction was undergoing on new arcologies under the streets to house the Americans who were continuing to come in a steady flow. The Americans loved Paris, and just as the Parisiens loved jazz, they grew to adore their hardworking Anglo newcomers. The Americans added color to the city, and were by and large white, which was a plus to the secretly racist French. The schools didn’t overflow because by this century most learning took place at home on computers tied to giant Ministry of Ed supercomputers which thrummed with power and the accumulated learning of the ages. You could go at your own pace, though you had to complete a minimum of 5 hours a day of concentrated computer time.

It was currently summer break and the computers had been put away. It was a time of fun and games for the kids — a different kind of learning. Sebastian was already cracking open the books and delving into their fictional worlds. Fast Eddie was playing American Football in the park above with roving gangs of kids, the sons of stockbrokers and doctors and lawyers. This was the world’s only rich ghetto, full of rich kids whose average family income stuck them well above the French median. In the Premuzic family, with a psychiatrist father and embassy worker mother, their income was in the top one percent of the nation. They threw around euros like there was no tomorrow.

Finally the escalator stopped moving, well below earth. There was a series of doors on this floor, Subterranean Alley Five, where the Premuzics lived. Dawn touched her finger to the fingerprint scanner and the door irised open. She set the briefcase to the floor and greeted Jerzy, who jumped in her arms for a hug.

“Awwwwwgh, there’s my boy! The mighty Jerzy, exploring king of the jungle! Did you see Stanley and Livingstone? Did you bring them back to French civilization to get thumbed up, the way mama gets thumbed at by the French every day? No one gets disrespect like an American embassy worker. Bar none.”

Jerzy hopped up and down. “Mom, we’re having Thai! Dad cooked it!”

“That’s great. Mom loves Thai. Have you been having fun being off school?”

“Yeah! I went to the Louvre today and saw all the paintings! Dad took me when he was off work.”

Sometimes Tom Premuzic finished his workday as early as 1:30 in the afternoon, and had time to take the boys on various outings throughout Paris.

Tom was standing by the pillar that led deeper into their flat. His skin was deeply tanned from the July sun. There was a part of the Arc park where nude sunbathers could go, and the godless French went there in droves, to mingle with the equally godless Americans.

“I had Max Tremolo today,” Tom said, and that remark came as a splash of cold water on the conversation. Dawn put away her things, including her umbrella.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“He likes you, Dawn. You encourage him. I warn you it’s a mistake. He’s liable to develop a pro-lovers’ fixation on you, a kind of Oedipal complex among strangers.”

“Strangers, that’s right. I am a stranger to the boy.”

“He doesn’t see it that way. He sees you as his salvation. He thinks you’re going to swoop in and rescue him from having to live with his mother. He’s mentioned that he wants to marry you.”

Dawn Premuzic snorted in disbelief. “Marry me? The kid’s got to be out of his cotton-picking mind. I’m old enough to be his mother, and I don’t like tiny dick.”

Tom smiled wryly. “He might argue that he won’t be small in that way forever. But let’s put aside his arguments. Aren’t you intimated by the boy? He intimidates, it seems, everyone else he meets.”

“Of course he scares me! I just put the fear away and treat him just like another kid. That’s what he needs. I’m surprised you fancy-ass psychiatrists don’t know that about human nature. It’s the golden rule, you treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

“The golden rule can be bent, corrupted. But anyway. Let’s go having dinner. It’s already been in the heater for way too long. You know how dry food can get when it’s left that way.”

Jerzy tagged along with his parents as they went to the head of the table. The table was big enough for ten people, for they often had dinner guests. Today Sebastian and Fast Eddie sat opposite each other and Jerzy sat all alone at the far end where he preferred to be, playing with his food and talking to himself in a cute little singsong voice.

“Dad, are you and Mom fighting?” Fast Eddie asked.

“Not at all. If we were fighting, you’d know it. You wouldn’t have to ask any questions about it.”

Dawn smoothed her skirt and sat down. She had a closet full of French fashions, which she thought were the finest in the world now that New York City was depopulated. Once America had taken the lead in fashion, but these days, in the 2140s, the French were back on top, baby. And they did love lacy things. Dawn’s skirt was lacy on the sides and slitted black panty-showing suede in front. Outrageous things were being done to fashion these days.

Fast Eddie said, “When I grow up, I want to play soccer for the French national team.”

“You’re already fourteen,” Tom Premuzic cautioned. “You should be good enough by now to know if you can make it. Yes, you’re a good soccer player, but are you a genius on the pitch?”

“I’m good,” Fast Eddie snarled.

“You’re too rich,” Sebastian countered with his book knowledge. “Hard working poor people get all the big sports positions, from basketball to American Football. They have a motivation to get out of their poverty. You don’t. You’re already going to graduate from the Sorbonne with a degree in economics, and marry a French actress with a classic French heart-shaped face. The Premuzics’ Croatian blood will be diluted further.”

Tom Premuzic said, “That was the price my Croatian ancestors paid when they moved to America in the Twentieth Century. They managed to marry Croatian for two generations, but after that that flew apart.”

Jerzy said, “What’s Croatian?”

“It’s the ancient Roman province of Illyria,” Tom said. “The invading Slavs — green and blue eyed, with blond hair — took it over from the dark-skinned Illyrian natives, who were passive. Croatia is the mixture of those two peoples.”

“Oh. I like this Pad Thai, Dad. Was it hard to make?”

“Not really. I cheated a bit; I bought the noodles premade at the supermarket. I really should have rolled the noodles by hand myself.”

Sebastian said, “I’m reading a history book about Rome, Dad, called Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Did you know that it was actually the famous Julius Caesar who took over Gaul?”

“Yes,” Tom replied seriously. “France was once a province of Italy’s. The Italians . . .” he drifted off, lost in thought. A strange expression crossed his face for a second. “The Italians have always been great breeders.”

Dawn and Sebastian exchanged a look.

“Sure, Dad. And conquerors, too!”

“Conquest comes in many forms,” Tom said enigmatically. “Some say personal conquest, one person over another, is the highest form of conquest. And of course there’s romantic conquest. A world awaits the man who can win over the woman of his dreams.”

“Who’s the woman of your dreams?” Fast Eddie asked, jabbing in Tom’s direction with his fork. It had speared two shrimps greedily on its tines. “Mom?”

Tom smiled mysteriously and said nothing. Dawn Premuzic was staring down at her plate.

Dawn said slowly, “Your father has many dreams, kids. Most of them unfulfilled.”

“I don’t know about that,” Tom said. “Like the saying goes, I’m living like God in France. I have a fine family. You, Dawn, aren’t too bad, either.”

“Damned by faint praise,” she murmured.

“Oh, come now. I can’t kiss your fat ass every day of the week.”

There was a hush around the table. Dawn’s slight weight problem bothered her greatly and she didn’t know how to fix it. Tom urged her to see a personal trainer — which they could easily afford — but Dawn was too embarrassed to do so. She would rather suffer in silence than do something about her unsightly rear end, which had grown a size in the last year alone.

She twirled the noodles with her fork dextrously and suddenly said, “I’m not hungry,” pushing off from the table.

“Dawn, you know a trainer would be just the ticket.”

“Let’s not talk about it now, Tom,” she emphasized the last darkly.

“I’m just saying you used to look so good. You used to take pride in your appearance. What happened to that woman?”

“She got promoted at work and spent more time at the office, eating takeout meals at her desk, which contributed to her fatness. I’m fat, okay? I know it. You don’t have to tell me — I see it in the mirror every day. Hell, I see it when I look down. I’m ashamed, okay, kids? A mother is supposed to be fit and firm to keep up with her kids. And the hell of it is I’m only thirty-five. I should be in the prime of my life.”

“The prime of your life is your twenties,” Tom murmured. “As a woman, I mean. For a man, it’s different. His prime is his forties.”

“You’re a sexist pig. I sometimes thinking coming to France confirmed all your hidden backward inclinations. France has never really grown up. It’s still a male chauvinist nation where the boys are revered above all. Boys, boys, boys! Hommes, hommes, hommes! Grow into a skirt-chaser and for God’s sake don’t be a fag.”

“There are no fags here,” Tom said with a smile, encompassing his three virile sons, who were also smiling. Even little Jerzy, who didn’t fully follow the conversation, was grinning.

“France is the height of civilization,” Dawn said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s right about everything. This war between the sexes has got to stop.”

“It’s females who start these wars,” Tom demurred. “Your kind is always seeking personal power. I see it in my practice all the time — beaten husbands, and the wives who henpecked them to death. Nobody can withstand that level of abuse for long and not lash out. You have to be a strong man to block a power-seeking wife.”

“Are you saying I’m power-seeking?” Dawn retorted.

“You do work for the embassy, Mom,” Sebastian interjected.

“That’s beside the point!”

“What is on point,” Tom said, “is that wives institute the majority of divorce proceedings, and the law favors the woman over the man. Society itself is always sympathetic to women’s causes. Breast cancer gets more research money than prostate cancer research. The man is always portrayed as a dumb, blind oaf in popular media. This has been going on for generations now. By now we live solidly in a matriarchy!”

“You can’t mean that!” Dawn said hotly. “Look at the way French men treat their women. It’s barbaric! And you say there’s a matriarchy?”

“Yes. A matriarchy. I know where of I speak. Men are allowed their little peccadilloes but women control the personal sphere; that is the most important. Sociology and psychology are both about relations between interpersonal players, and the psychology of man, these days, is to bend over backwards for the women’s wants and desires. A clash is inevitable!”

“I don’t boss you around,” Dawn said quietly. “Do I?”

“Only because I don’t let you. Only because I fight for my independence. Having three boys helps too. Together, we carve out a space against the all-enveloping Woman Influence. Your soft power is corrupting, revolting, but the four of us do well against you. By the way, I hate all your friends.”

“I love my friends!” Dawn gasped.

“They’re gossiping little bitches. There’s the Jewish American Princess, who mocks her husband’s dick size. There’s the two stockbrokers’ wives, who brag about their net worth, when their husbands don’t want that spoken of in public. But that’s the whole point: chicks do what they want, irregardless of what would be good for men. Chicks don’t care for men, not really. You said it yourself — you love your friends. I wonder if you really love your families.”

“That’s not true,” Dawn protested. “I have never complained about having three sons.”

“You said how disappointed you were when Eddie turned out not to be a daughter.”

“That’s different. I was being . . . emotional. I just wanted a little girl to balance out the family.”

“Families aren’t ‘balanced out.’ They’re naturally occurring organisms. Often, one gender or another predominates in a house. The most unfortunate homes are ones where the female is numerically ascendant. It’s those houses where you see some real doozy cases of craziness. Women are hormonally loony.”

“Bullshit!” Dawn swore.

“You are. You have incredible mood swings which would be grounds for institutionalization in a man. You are immature to a fault. Schopenhauer discussed all this in his works. Women are inferior.”

“Women should rule the world.”

“See, kids? Power seeking. These cowards put on a fine show of bravery, of being ‘strong, independent’ women. But they can’t pull it off when it counts. Then they turn to men to get their broad asses out of the fire.”

“Like when?”

“Like last year when you backed a power play inside the embassy. The ambassador was going to be overthrown and sent back to Washington. You agreed with this, and threw your personal support to the removal of the ambassador. But it all ended in tears. When the ambassador fought back — correctly, I might add — and kept his position, you begged him not to fire you. Your teary emotions saved your bacon. Female weakness writ large, of course.”

“It was an honest mistake,” Dawn said stubbornly. “I thought he was the wrong man for the job. I came to see he was the right one.”

“Because he was the strongest. Women always herd up behind the strongest man. Men do too, of course, but with women it’s automatic, unthinking. Hitler had a solid backing of frauleins. Stalin was supported by Russian women. Women love to lavish praise on men of power. That’s why I think you support little Max Tremolo really. Because you sense that someday he’s going to grow up into a tough bastard, and you want to get a leg in on the ground floor.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Dawn said, outraged. “He’s just a kid. You think I’m mapping out our entire future together? I don’t even know if we’ll still know him in two years’ time.”

“But you women plan for all contingencies, socially speaking. It’s what you do. It’s all you do. Your world is the social. It certainly isn’t the world of ideas. You have all those political science books from your school years on the shelves — when do you ever pick them up and look at them again? You’re not a reader of deep thoughts. You read old Danielle Steel books and Fifty Shades of Grey. They make you think I’m not the man I should be.”

“I know what type of man you are,” she said cuttingly, by implication.

“Ah, now it all comes out. Your pettishness. Your weak emotions, broadcast for the world to see. Flex those thin arms, girl. Show the world how you deal with it when you control things. You kick your man when he’s down. That’s what you do. You’re an abuser, like all your kind. Only your abuse is insidious, hard-to-detect. There have been times at work when I sense you working on me. Toying with me. Using your natural interpersonal advantages over me and against me. That’s right. You attack me every day I’m at work. I can feel it. Now that we’ve made it financially, you don’t want me to have a great practice. You knock my clients and knock my competence. You affect my confidence. Good confidence is the heart of a good therapist; and you knock at this.”

Tom Premuzic was speaking in a rush now, but as he spoke the image of Edith Tremolo’s breasts came into his vision more and more often, and he found himself getting horny. As he spoke, at his family dinner table, he found himself getting a little chub of an erection, honest-to-God.

Tom started to get up from the table, and stopped because of his erection. He sat back down again, and prepared for the withering counterattack from his wife. He was saved by Sebastian.

“Mom, Dad, don’t fight. We don’t need to hear your squabbling. It’s not good for family unity.”

“There are more important things than family unity,” Tom said. “There’s personal happiness, and the pursuit thereof. It’s what the American system proclaims, and it’s one of the great bedrock stones of the Republic. It’s how the American Republic is superior to the French Republic, sad to say. The French are all about liberty and equality, but they neglect to say how the pursuit of happiness figures in all this. Sometimes you have to sacrifice family unity to get the thrills that you want out of life. Spikes of emotion might be the only grand things worth living for. Spikes of emotion, that’s right.”

“Now who’s being emotional?” Dawn questioned.

“The thrill of life cannot be suppressed by routine work and the modern industrial society. That’s what caused World War I — the seeking of new thrills. It wasn’t the alliance system, it was boredom with work. The fact is, Dawn, I’m bored with you and I’m bored with us. And in time, you’re going to see what that means for us. I vow it. You’re going to see that I’m still a man and I still get to choose. And you either go along with it or get thrown off this moving train.”

Now his erection was gone, and he stood up and strode out of the room, throwing the napkin down on the floor after him, leaving Dawn to pick it up.

Chapter 3

Edith Tremolo smiled to see Tom Premuzic waiting, hat in hand, at the door. It was as if she had been expecting him.

Tom knew that Edith did nothing all day long. She was on the dole, and had plenty of time to “relax.” She was relaxing when he came to see her that day. He had seen her shadow through the window, lying on a clean white sofa. Now she dropped her smile and looked concerned. “Is it Max?”

“No. I’ve come here to see you.”

She looked confused. “Okay. Come on in. A glass of red wine, perhaps?”

“That would be good.”

While he entered the house and kicked off his shoes, she went to fetch the drink. Her house smelled good. Some kind of incense mixed with potpourri. He was beginning to enjoy himself already.

He took a seat on the spotless couch. In moments she was back, fluttering, with two glasses of wine, one for herself. She was very French, he decided, despite her Italian ancestry. “But your name,” he wondered aloud, “how did you get the name Edith?”

She sipped at her wine. She wasn’t wearing makeup. “I was named after Edith Piaf. My mother was a big fan.”

“Where is your mother now?”

Edith looked forlorn. “She’s passed on. She had corticobasal degeneration, a rotting of the nerve cells, that was untreatable. I still think about her sometimes.”

“Where’s Max?”

“Oh, he’s out roaming the streets. I send him out when he gets to be too much.”

“Today he was too much?” Tom gave her a knowing look.

Edith stretched her arms in a yawn, emphasizing her huge melons. “To my pain, he’s always too much. The older he gets, the worse it is. I must say, you’re looking very well, Doctor. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“Thank you, I think. Is that a compliment?”

“You’re a handsome man. With just a dash of silver in your hair, you look debonair.”

“I like to think so. My wife disagrees.”

“She sounds like a raw American bitch. Fuck her.”

Tom wanted to get off the topic of his wife. First, though, he’d had to let her know he was married, so she wouldn’t get any ideas that she’d become his number one. He wanted a mistress, a lover, not a replacement wife. Besides, if he wifed up this woman she would become insufferable. She was arrogant and low, a deadly combination in a woman. But she was also desperate. That much was plain in her eyes. Her breath smelled of dental chewing gum and she moved in close to him to confide. Tom felt his breathing hitch in his chest.

“Doctor, you’re a good man. Would you like to take Max out on an outing sometime? I know he’d like that.”

Tom decided to play the asshole and see how far that got him. “I’d rather not. The fact is, I’d like to keep matters on a purely professional level . . .” He brushed a loose strand of Edith’s hair aside, as if straightening her appearance, when in fact it was his first attempt at building some chemistry via touching.

Edith leaned back and spread her arms wide on the couch, again exposing her breasts to him. Through the sheer fabric they looked practically bare. He knew, in a lightning bolt’s revelation, that she wasn’t wearing a bra. Tom had to fight back a grin that threatened to derail him.

She pouted. “I was hoping you’d be a special kind of man, Doctor. I can see that you’re not.”

“I’m very special. Just not in that way.” Tom dropped his hand on Edith’s shoulder. “You can confide in me, Edith. Something’s gnawing at you. Out with it.”

She leaned her head to one side . . . . pressing it against the hand that was on her shoulder. They both felt a frisson of electric excitement.

“I’m alone. I’m lonely. Every day I spent cooped up in my house. I watch television, I exercise on the treadmill to stay thin. I watch what I eat. People stare at me in the supermarket, but when they meet Max they run for the hills. You’re so good not to run . . .” She nibbled on the skin between his thumb and index finger. Then she kissed his hand.

Tom seized the moment. He held her head in both hands and brought her face to his own. He kissed her hard, and made a deliberate effort to press his flat chest against her swollen breasted one. He could feel her hard nipples poking through the shirt. One by one, he unbuttoned her shirt. Her tits began to get revealed. They slid sideways. He brought them back to center line with his hand.

He stood her up and removed her shirt. Now she was standing topless, wearing white riding pants and pink socks with fluffy balls behind them. Her breasts looked better than an ever, just standing there. The nipples looked hard and poky enough to remove an eye by accident. Tom fondled her breasts, thrilled. Then he stripped off all his clothes and the rest of hers and inserted his cock into her body on the couch. Edith grunted sexually and trailed off into a little series of moans. He suckled on her breasts, tasting her nipples. Now that he was inside her body he could begin pumping.

For the next fifteen minutes they screwed on the couch. He turned her doggy style at some point, with her tits hanging in the air, and flicked at her nipples as he banged her from behind. “Will you be my mistress?” Tom Premuzic grunted as he shagged her.

“Yes. Yes!”

“I can call on you whenever I want?”

“Whenever! It’s been so long since I’ve had a moment like this.”

Tom Premuzic thrust inside, and that triggered a crossing of the sensory threshold, triggering an orgasm, which ripped thorugh his body like fierce music. He shot his load deep in her pussy, smacking her inner walls with his seed, which dripped and stuck depending on its texture. The white mucus clung to her cervix. Edith had a climax in that moment, which she gasped at in surprise. She hadn’t expected to come. Now she was shuddering inside, her body urging the seed deeper into her core. The two of them collapsed on each other, Tom leaning on her back, her round ass up in the air.

“That was good, baby,” Tom whispered in her ear. “I’m so glad you’re my mistress. Maybe you and my wife can play with me sometime.”

She had trouble breathing after her climax. “I’d . . . I’d like that. I like women.”

He was getting hard again.

Licking her lips with his shovel-bladed tongue, Tom Premuzic decided to have another go at his mistress.

Chapter 4

That next day Max Tremolo exhausted himself going from the depths of the city to its very heights. He started with the Catacombs, Paris’ underground tombs. Then, at night, when the skies were streaked with gray darkened clouds, he climbed a cathedral to its very top.

But first, the Catacombs.

Max waited until 4:00 pm, when the tourist rush had died down a lot. Six million people’s bones had been transferred to underneath Paris in the 1700s and entered into ancient stone quarries. This became known as the Catacombs. The bones and skulls were lodged into the sides of the passageway, mile on mile. Paris was literally built on bone. The City of Romance rested on stilts over the City of the Dead.

Max walked down a passageway with a flashlight in his left hand and his right hand on his cell phone, recording the travels. Max liked to record important events for later viewing in his life. And this was an important one. He was going to reanimate a complete skeleton, if he could. He wasn’t sure he could. It had been dead for so many years, he felt it would be difficult to find a connection, a “touch,” with it.

Swinging the flashlight around, he took a smaller side route. The voices of the tourists — mostly German and Russian — faded as he advanced into blackness. There was another branching here, into yet another smaller tunnel, one seemingly made for kids. He took it eagerly. At the end of the passageway there was a wall packed full of bones, all jumbled up.

Max Tremolo began tracing a finger along the wall’s bones, getting a feel for them in the Catacomb’s dank coolness. He ran his finger along a femur and could have sworn he felt it jump a little underneath his finger. That was a good omen.

He was looking for a complete package. Something like a rib cage and feet and legs and a skull to go along with it, the total body experience. And he found it, three-fifths of the way across to the right and one-third of the way down toward the ground. A complete body, packed into the wall and not separated into pieces.

Max gave it the full-on touch.

As he retrieved his hand, it began to vibrate in sympathy with some unknown inner dark power. The rib cage popped out first. It landed on the floor and began to roll around. There was space between the ribs and this space was magically holding. It wasn’t collapsing into a mess on the floor. Other bones were popping out now. The last to come was the skull. It landed near the rib cage, then rolled over a few times. It linked with the neck bones with an audible click!

Then the skeleton got up. It saluted Max just as Max wanted. It stood there, arms dangling to one side like a skeletal ape.

“At ease, private,” Max Tremolo whispered hesitantly. He caressed the hip bones of the skeleton. The widened pelvis told him this was a girl skeleton. That wouldn’t do at all. He swung his flashlight into the girl skeleton, smashing the bones to pieces. The useless detritus filled the floor, and a ring finger beckoned him to his grave before it gently subsided into the earth.

Max animated three more male skeletons this time, saying At ease, private, each time. This time the gender was right for “private.”

He left for the sunlight, the skeletons following him. When he got close to a crowd of tourists on a main route, he ordered the skeletons to merge with the wall and wait for future instructions.

Then he went home and napped for five hours. He had stayed up all night planning this day, and in his excitement had been unable to sleep. Mother was nowhere to be seen. She had left a note saying she was going shopping with “the wonderful Mr. Premuzic.” Wonderful, Max thought acidly, hatefully. He’s banging her already, and paying for the privilege. See? Mother has descended from slut to paid whore. She’s now just a common mistress. Paris has two of them for every legitimate wife.

At nighttime she still wasn’t back — probably wining and dining on the town, again at Mr. Premuzic’s expense — and Max pocketed the key to his house and rented an auto-taxi to take him to the Ten Commandments Cathedral in Central Paris.

The Ten Commandments was a piece of Gothic magnificence from the late 1400s. It had been festooned with more gargoyles than you could shake a stick at, mostly on the upper levels. Max was aiming for the square ring at the top one-seventh of the structure, a rampart with a gargoyle every twenty feet. He was planning on reanimating the gargoyles and he wanted everything to go well.

There was ivy hanging down the length of the cathedral. Max stood at ground level now. He animated the ivy, and in the process turned it into a hardened rope ladder he could climb on. He began ascending the animated ivy, feeling the wind in his hair threatening to turn into a tumultuous crossroads of competing winds. The rope ladder swayed a bit from his weight and from the wind.

In the moonlight, he could barely see the shapes of the stones set in the cathedral. They were large rectangular blocks, mossy with age, that had worn the ages well. The Coliseum in Rome was a place he had visited when he was five, and even at that age he had been impressed with it. Stone was impressive in general. This Ten Commandments Cathedral had an open book made of stone impressed over the main archway entrance to the building, but Max was climbing around the back. There were no stars out — the city killed them with its light pollution. But there was a big, fat moon, nearly full. Max realized he was having fun. It was romantic, staying out late, cheating his mother, putting himself in some danger. Max held a hand out with a cell phone at the moon and drank it in. Then he continued up, supported by a living rope.

Finally he reached the top. He climbed over the rampart’s edge and dropped down into the interior with a gasp of out-of-breath-ness. He took his cell phone out and shined its light around the gargoyles. There they were: wings, scowling faces, stone beauty frozen in time. They looked like they could launch off into space at any moment. Their curled feet with talons hung onto the edges of the rampart around the cathedral. They looked official, time travelers from nearly a thousand years ago. It was the year 2143, and it was a beautiful time in which to be alive.

Max waltzed around the square ring, touching each gargoyle briefly in turn, not pausing to figure out what happens next, only ready to believe the unbelievable. The rustling of stone blocks sounded behind him as he skipped on, a little boy on a fun errand. There were eighteen gargoyles around this large structure, and he had animated them all.

Eighteen servants to order around nastily and destroy others’ lives.

Chapter 5

1.

Tom Premuzic closed the book. There were pictures of gargoyles inside the cover, and they all reminded him hideously of what had happened this morning.

On his way out the apartment he had run into a phalanx of gargoyles near the escalators. They had pointed at him and advanced.

Tom held his hands out and looked back for a way out. There was a smell in the air, the coppery sheen of blood. A little girl had been ripped to shreds on the up escalator, and now what was left of her head bumped again and again on the top shelf of the escalator as it moved her incessantly without getting anywhere.

One gargoyle fluttered its wings and took off from the ground. It zoomed in on Tom Premuzic. Tom ducked at the last moment and it collided with a pillar at full speed. The other gargoyles began shambling toward Tom on awkward feet. He was faster than them, at least in theory. He retreated to his apartment.

Ramming his finger on the OPEN button, the door irised open. As it was closing, a stone hand shot into the opening and kept it from completely closing.

Tom swung a chair up and hammered it on the hand repeatedly. The fingers spasmed and weakened. Wings could be seen shivering in the shadows beyond. One red eye stared at Tom through the irised door, a dead stone face attached to it, the red eye lit up in maleficient glow. Then the door irised fully shut and locked.

Panting, Tom leaned on the door, and jumped back when the pounding sounds began. Stone fists hammered on a steel door. No contest: the steel would hold. But there wasn’t any other way out of the flat. All the gargoyles would have to do would be take a position in front of the apartment and wait him out. They, presumably, didn’t have to eat or go to the bathroom. They could be there forever. The pounding continued, joined by new fists. There were something like six gargoyles out there, some of them pacing around, some of them standing with heads tilted back looking up the concourse. Tom could see them on the entryway camera. They looked mean and hungry, like unfed dogs. In fact, some of them had snouts that sniffed the air on half-human faces. They were devils on this earth. All at once the word REANIMATION filled Tom’s mind and a picture of Max rubbing his hands together followed that image. So this was the little brat’s doing. He got angry and he got even — even if it meant the death of his opponent.

“If you didn’t want to attend the sessions, all you had to do is ask,” Tom muttered aloud to himself and paced around in a circle, thinking hard. The pounding grew louder as if to say, let us in, let us in! Thank God none of the kids were home. Dawn was still at work, too. This situation fell on his broad psychiatric shoulders to solve and resolve.

Sebastian had a 3-d printer in his room. It could manufacture whole devices. Could it make a weapon?

There was a three-ring binder in the room, with flowery letters on it: ILLEGAL DEVICES. Feverishly, Tom flipped open the binder.

There it was: a bazooka. Type 3471-a. World War 2 vintage. Capable of being made of composite polymers and synthetic ceramics in fifteen minutes. Almost fumbling, Tom inserted the cartridge in the printer and cycled the machine ON. Sheets of plastic began to be laid in front of his eyes. Layer after layer grew up. Sitting in a chair turned around so that he leaned on the back, Tom watched the process unfold. The bazooka was growing organically before him, as well as three launchable explosives.

In 14.5 minutes it was done. The bazooka glittered in his arms. The weapon was absurdly easy to load and closing the firing chamber secured and locked it. Like Rambo, Tom returned to the door iris. He hit the open button and two red eyes looked intently at him.

He fired.

It launched over his shoulder, a trail of fire spuming from it. The rocket slammed into the center mass of the gargoyles, detonating with a burst as it struck one in the chest. Lavalike fire fell over everything, some burning Tom on the cheek minutely. Then it was over.

The six gargoyles lay on their backs outside Subterranean Alley Five, Unit 63. Dead. Deceased. Defunct. Inoperative. Whatever the word was, they were out of action and out of the picture, their life force spent.

Now, Tom looked down at the book again. GARGOYLES: A MYSTERY, by Pierre Rencestiere. He had ordered the book an hour ago and a drone had delivered it down the steps, flitting over the concrete.

The artist’s souls were on parade in the countless isolated gargoyles they had constructed. The artists who had made the gargoyles had put evil in them, Tom was sure of that. As they were reanimated, that evil spilled out and came alive. What kind of men were these artists? Frustrated geniuses. Barred by society from living the way they wanted, they took it out on their creations, giving them twisted ugliness and bared teeth.

Tom clenched the book and paced. Another twisted genius: the boy Max Tremolo. My powers — Yes. Your powers. Your powers to harm and destroy. Within a stone fist, a delicate glass bauble hangs in the balance, ready to be crushed. The lives of others are your reanimating responsibility, boy, but you have NO sense of responsibility whatsoever. You’re just a little child in your emotions, selfish, undesirable. The ugliness of the gargoyles is mirrored in the ugliness of your soul, Max. The two of you belong together.

Tom hefted the bazooka and checked its load. Two more explosives to go. Dawn would be home within fifteen minutes. Maybe he should blow her up before she decided to shoot him like the bitch-dog she was. Then what? Run off to Belize with Edith and live on the beach in naked splendor. Someplace without an extradition treaty with France or the U.S.A.

Tom realized he was thinking seriously of abandoning his family, the living fear had jarred him that much. He stroked the bazooka like a baby and went outside to drag the bodies of the gargoyles to the incinerator.

The public incinerator was conveniently located on Level 5, where he was. As he dragged the bodies and dumped them one by one into the hungry open door with licking flames, he thought to himself: What do I do about the little boy? About Max Tremolo?

He had to assume the gargoyles would keep coming even if the boy . . . met with an unfortunate end. And how would he explain that to the French authorities? Yes, monsieur, the boy was demon-possessed with the ability to animate creatures and make them do his bidding . . . He was truly evil, he was. I had to get rid of him. That’s why I shot him with my trusty bazooka.

Tom suppressed a hysterical giggle. He could easily imagine Max Tremolo blowing to pieces from the airburst of a bazooka armament. Arms separating and flying off. Legs breaking to pieces. The heart that kept him going stopping beating. That vile little heart. That vile little boy. How dare he! Tom was the adult. Max was only the child. This was a reversal of the natural order. The young should not terrorize the fully mature. It was a clear abomination.

It was a clear abomination.

2.

It was time to get some intel from Edith Tremolo, the boy’s mother. To find out what Tom was really dealing with here.

He texted her for a booty call, planning to talk instead of fuck, this one time.

But when she showed up, wearing a tight top that showed off her twin beauties, Tom lost control and had to have her. He ravaged her in the motel room 12 flights up from the ground. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower twinkled romantically, its random pattern of lights activating. Tom came deep inside Edith and felt immediately relaxed and brand new. He stretched his naked arms over his head and spread them in a slow arc.

“Good?” Edith said, looking nervously up at him.

“Your ass is fine,” Tom said. “But I didn’t call you here for this. This just happened. I want to talk to you about Max, your boy.”

Edith hissed like a cat scalded by hot coals. “I don’t want to! He’s taken to hitting me with his tiny fists, you know that? Me, his own mother? How dare he!”

“He sounds like he’s coming to a boiling point,” Tom said wisely, stroking her head. She leaned her full body into his embrace, putting her heavy melons on his chest like counterweights.

She muffled her voice against his chest. “Max has never been what you would call a stable child. He’s always had his moments, moments of acting out. This month has been one long acting-out. It never ends. It’s awful. I hate him. He’s a chain around my neck. I want to put him up for adoption, but I don’t know how the state would react to that, or if it’s even possible. He knows I fear him, and he revels in it. He lives for my fear, now. It is his lifeblood, his ambrosia.”

“Don’t fear him. You’re his mother. There must be a part of him that still loves you.”

Mais non, my lover. He burned that part out long ago. Pried it out with forceps. Now he is born to be a darkling child, alone on a plain in winter’s furies, standing up, arms raised . . . But I have hope. I have a gun. I bought it from an American who deals in these sorts of things. You Americans never lose your longing for deadly weapons. You can remove an American from America, but not the gun from his hands.”

Tom knew there were reputed to be more illegal weapons in the American Quarter than in the rest of France combined. The fact had saddened him once, but now he was gleeful about it. He could get all the weapons he would ever need right at home, and those he couldn’t buy he could make on the 3-d printer.

“There’s a part of me that reluctantly admires Max,” Tom said. “I guess it’s an American thing. He doesn’t take shit from nobody. He’s a clear winner. A badass of the first degree. Once my life was leading me in that direction. But Freud and Jung saved me from a life of negativity. My fascination with the mind gave me an anchor to hold onto. Otherwise I might’ve rivaled Max for badness.”

“You?” She stifled a laugh. “You are a professional man. A self-made man, hero of your own tale. How could you turn out wrong?”

Tom pinched her cheek. “Wake up. There’s evil everywhere. My father was a boxer who had no money. He was a profoundly ill and stupid man. My mother was a self-hating woman who married him because he was so dense. Somehow an intelligent offspring — me — resulted. I could have easily followed in my father’s footsteps, beating up random strangers, going to jail for years at a time. I could’ve but books saved me. In books I found my own version of nirvana which overshadowed the dark glow of the world of violence. Yes, books. If not for them I wouldn’t be here today. I would be crushed by life. Instead, I conquer it. I have you, don’t I?”

“Yes, I am yours, wholly and completely.”

“Reading opens up possibilities. Some of them are destructive, like what I must do about your son Max. Max is a threat to me and my family and that I cannot tolerate. But at the same time I am not going to prison for thirty years for the murder of a little boy. There must be a way to stop him that doesn’t at the same time get my hands dirty. That’s my priority for the moment.”

“Oh, and without him I could marry you!”

“I’m not leaving Dawn, Edith. Wake the fuck up. You’re a mistress, not a full-fledged woman.”

“What do you mean?” Edith shivered. “I am a woman. I have rights.”

“No you don’t. You exist to pleasure me. You’re a tool, a utensil. I hate to be so blunt — well, not really, I’m actually kind of enjoying it — but anyway. You’re a tool, babe. Your tits exist to turn me on, not to produce milk, not to do anything else.”

She was looking away now. “Tom, I have something to admit to you. I’m pregnant.”

Tom absorbed this deadly new nugget in silence. He pushed her away instead of holding her close.

“It happened when you came over to my house the other day. I had an orgasm and that sealed the deal. It increased the chances of impregnation. We’re going to have a baby.”

“Really,” Tom said coldly.

“Do you want me to abort? To abort it? Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know what I want. If it’s a boy, it can live. Get it tested as soon as possible.”

“I already did. It’s a boy.”

A fourth boy. One with a big-jugged woman who made love like a Tasmanian devil. It had a kind of appeal to it.

“Alright,” Tom said, nuzzling her cheek. “You raise it, I’ll pay for it. But not a euro more than he actually costs. I’m your lover, not your sugar daddy.”

“You’re my lover, not my sugar daddy,” she repeated humbly, memorizing the lesson.

He reached out a hand and stroked a giant tit. He could not get over how fantastic they were. They never dulled or grew boring. She had huge areola, too, surrounding ever-hard stiff big nipples. Erect, they were impossible to bend back with the fingers. He had tried.

He kissed her gently on the lips. “You’re a good baby, you know that.”

Eyes downcast, she agreed silently.

His groin was beginning to stir again. “Suck on me a while, will you?”

She pumped him in her hand and licked him. Then she kissed him repeatedly on the penis, directly. She swallowed the length of him like a sword-swallower. Moving her throat up and down, she kept wetting him with her tongue inside her mouth. His erection felt huge.

“We’ll conclude this session with one last fuck. I just cannot resist.”

3.

“Dawn, that boy is a killer.”

Dawn Premuzic looked up, tired from a day of office politics at the embassy. Every day she had to watch her back. Her co-workers could never truly be friends, as they were at other workplaces. Everybody was scheming and plotting.

“Who? Max?”

“He has the power to bring the dead to life.”

She laughed. He slapped her and shook her by the shoulders. “I am not fucking around, Dawn. He can do things we can only dream about. This morning, half a dozen gargoyles came for me outside that door there. For all I know, there’s more where that came from. You’re a schemer. Help me find a way to deal with this vile little evil boy, this moral cretin, this serpent in the childish grass.”

“My, aren’t we dramatic. You need my help?” She arched her eyebrows, implying what-do-I-get-in-return-for-it?

“You’re my wife. You’ll be targeted too, eventually. Once that boy gets past me, he’ll wipe out my whole family. I feel it. There’s no stopping him without stopping him.”

“Okay. Fine. What do you want to do to him? Make him see the light of his ways?”

“His evil’s branded into his forehead. He’ll never back down.”

“Threaten him with a bully.” She rubbed at her cheek where she was slapped. “There is always an excess of bullies at the playground.”

Tom paused. “That’s actually not a bad idea. Call his bluff. Intimate him in return. There are bigger boys out there who I could buy for a pittance.” Tom removed a small spiral notebook from his back pocket and began making notes. “I know the major playground in Paris. Thousands of boys of all ages congregate there, including Max. I’ll have a gang approach Max and . . .” He scribbled fanatically in his pad. “God, this is looking good. This is all coming as a big relief. I don’t know about you, but I think this might actually work.”

“Go to bed, Tom,” Dawn said, dropping her clothes on the floor behind her as she moved toward their big bed with the black silk sheets. “Pleasure me, if you’re still a man.”

He tossed the notepad on the extra wide dresser and went to fondle his wife’s taut body. She still enjoyed that, after eighteen years of marriage.

But would they still be together for the twentieth?

Chapter 6

1.

Seen from above and at an angle, the little boy was surrounded by three skeletons on the playground, and he was defiant. His arms were folded across his chest. He had been bossed around once this week — it wasn’t happening again, no way, no siree.

The skeletons looked like modern special effects, not something to be taken seriously. Some kids were whispering in a corner about them, and pointing. The playground was barred to adults. It was a pleasure dome for kids alone. The skeletons advanced in a guard around Max Tremolo, and their finger bones were sharp.

Very sharp.

“Hey, kid!” an older voice called out. A teenage voice.

“Hey, kid!” another voice joined in. Max froze, then resumed walking behind his skeletons. They weren’t a delusion and they weren’t pretend; they were his armor, his fist.

Max stopped and screamed, head tilted back, the world zooming in to his mouth: “Come on, then! I dare you!

A gang of teens descended on Max, and spun him around physically.

“You’ve been a bad boy, I’m told,” the leader said. He wore a black leather jacket and twin fluffy dice hung from his cuffs, where they bounced as he talked. “Bothering nice people. But nice people fight back, don’t they?”

“Thugs,” Max spat. He had cut his tongue biting down by accident and now he spat blood.

“You’re the thug, we heard,” the lieutenant of the gang said, stepping forward. He gave Max a hard shove. The eight-year-old stumbled and fell on his ass.

“Skeletons! At arms!” Max cried in a panic.

The first skeleton dropped in a fighting stance. It was two steps from the lieutenant, and it approached fast, slicing sideways with its bony elbow doing destructive damage. The lieutenant was disemboweled, and his intestines — to his amazed huge surprise — dangled from his belly. They were greasy and grayish-purple in color. The teen was trying to stuff them back in his body when another skeleton kicked him in the head from a standing position. The sharp foot raked his forehead, drawing a massive gout of blood, and the lieutenant fell down, spasming.

Max jumped up and pointed. “Death!” he shouted. “I call upon death to get you! All of you!”

The three skeletons surrounded the leader. They sensed he was the main threat. They closed fists and began to beat, bludgeon him. Their hard bones glanced off his cheekbones and eyes, bruising them all. The leader fought back, however. He flicked out a switchblade and cut a skeleton inside the empty eye. This had the effect of breaking the skeleton apart. It collapsed in a heap of bones. The other two skeletons resumed their attack on the leader. He had the switchblade knocked out of his hand, but now the other teens were flicking out their own blades. One teen had Max by the body and was holding a switchblade to his throat. “Tell them to stop!” the teen commanded. “Or I cut you! I cut you bad!” This boy was an Algerian, dark-skinned and swarthy. Max Tremolo was grinning in panic and fear.

“Get them, my skeletons! Show no mercy!”

“I’m telling you, merde, draw back, make them draw back!”

“Get them!”

“Tell them to draw back or I cut you!”

One skeleton broke loose from the pack and wheeled to approach Max’s tormentor. Max took advantage of the distraction, ramming his elbow into the tormentor’s solar plexus. The boy went ooof! and dropped his blade. Max scampered away from the pack. The skeletons were being stabbed in the eyes and falling to pieces. When the adults came on the scene later on — the cleaners — they would find nothing but musty bones redolent of the Catacombs. For now, though, Max retreated. Let them think him a coward. It was the prudent thing to do.

2.

The arena roared with approval. Brad Quinn jabbed an elbow in the face of his opponent. The man’s head spun around and he fell back. This was Ultimate Fighting Championship number 5000 on the dot, a special night. The UFC had suspended its American operations after the bombing of New York, but had resumed in Europe on a more aggressive schedule. Brad Quinn was the current challenger for the top prize.

They had banned ground wrestling from the UFC roster. Too boring to look at. And they moved, correctly, to an emphasis of different styles of fighting confronting one another. Brad Quinn was a karate expert, and the best friend of Tom Premuzic’s. In the stands, Tom watched with tense knuckles on his seat arms as his friend fought down below ten rows. His spiky hair glistened with all that gel that went to create Brad’s mohawk hairstyle, as he swept his foot down low and knocked the opponent off balance. Brad went in punching. The crowd went wild.

He twisted his fist the karateka style, torquing it for added power. Each blow sent the champion back two feet, and he was bleeding now from both nostrils of his nose in rivulets. One eye was swollen shut. Brad launched into a roundhouse kick that finished him off. He rolled over on his side, respirating weakly, but Brad was already helping him up. The referee came in and raised Brad’s hand and declared him the new champion. The crowd was delirious. An American ex-pat was the winner of the 5000th UFC! Glory to the U.S. of A!

Brad Quinn stepped up to the podium to say a few words while they strapped his new belt around his midriff. He adjusted the flexible microphone on the stand and said, “I want to thank a few people here, most of all my good friend Tom Premuzic. He’s my training partner in all this, and although he’s a head shrink, he’s a thoroughly cool guy. He’ll give you a few gray hairs while he analyzes you, but he means well. This win is for you, Tom!”

Tom stood up in his yellow trenchcoat and bowed. Roses fluttered to his feet as well.

Later, in the change room, a heavily muscled Brad was showering by himself with Tom standing just around the corner, giving him privacy. “Not bad, eh, buddy?” Brad could be heard grinning from around the corner. Tom was smoking a cigarette, one of the new non-cancerous ones with all the nicotine removed and replaced by a synthetic chemical. He tapped the ashes into a robot can which burped and thanked him in low musical French before stepping into the shower himself.

Rainwater fell on Tom’s head. Brad laughed. “Are you crazy? You’re wearing street clothes!” Tom hugged Brad and continued to act goofy. He put Brad in a choke hold and fiercely nuzzled Brad’s hair with his clenched knuckles.

“You’re the winner, baby — and don’t you forget it,” Tom said, getting all wet.

Grinning, Brad effortlessly broke the hold and lifted Tom off the ground in a hug. “Thanks for all those hours in the gym with me, bro,” Brad said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Tom kissed either cheek of Brad’s and stuck his tongue out. He sat down on the robot can, which he’d ordered to follow him into the shower. It was forbidden to sit on robot cans. Tom ignored this and did what he wanted. It probably wouldn’t break — it was made in Europe, after all.

Still sitting on the can, Tom spread his arms to gesture wide. “Everything’s opening up for you, Brad. The endorsements will come pouring in. Shoes, cologne, trips to Club Med. You’ll be on all the holo-ads, larger than life.”

It was true. The ads would beam him as a nine-foot-tall warrior with intense, smoldering eyes and all the ladies would sigh in pre-sexual pleasure.

“It’s about time some money started coming in,” Brad Quinn said, turning around and soaping his buttocks up. He turned back and rinsed off in the powerful spray coming from the showers.

“You deserve it.”

“I’m in debt 50,000 euros,” Brad said. “The ads should erase all of that within six months. But I got lucky. I fought an inferior opponent tonight. He was sick. He was just coming down with a cold. You could see it in the whites of his eyes and his flaring nostrils.”

“Really? So you don’t deserve the ads?”

“Hell, no, I deserve ’em. I’m the legitimate champion, now. I’m just saying it should’ve been harder. I drew the fight out for entertainment value, you know. It lasted twelve minutes longer than it should’ve.”

“Good for you. Hey, amigo, have you seen my new mistress?”

Brad whistled. “You got yourself another piece of ass? How French. What’s her name? When do I get to meet her?”

“Tonight, after the fight, if you want. She’s driving my Porsche in the clouds, just circling. Why? Why not. I just felt like ordering her about. It’s one of the best things about having a mistress. That intoxicating feeling of power.”

“You just like lording it over people, huh?” Brad laughed.

“That, and her tits. You’ve got to see these titties, Braddie. They’re the Seventh and Eighth Wonders of the World.”

“There’s a drawback, though. There’s got to be.”

“Her kid. He’s a psychopath with rare powers. But he’s been avoiding the house all hours of the day. Which is good, since I only come there during daylight. There’s no way I’m spending a night in her house with him in there.”

Brad Quinn turned off the shower flow. A wave of his hand in front of the sensor did it. Dripping, he wrapped a towel around himself and put a damp arm companionably around Tom while they both walked out of the shower zone. Brad’s duffel bag was on a bench that was scarred with grooved writing and spraypainted on at both ends. He sat down and started pulling on his socks.

“You know,” Brad said, “your wife has to find out about the mistress sooner or later, right?”

“I’m prepared for that. She comes across as a tough broad but she has a weak rubber arm. It’s all a question of who needs who more. In this relationship, I have all the power. I made sure to orchestrate it that way all those years ago. I wouldn’t say Dawn is trained, exactly, but she has the makings of a proper poodle. When the time comes, I’ll tell her, and she’ll accept. She’ll have no choice.”

“You like boxing these girls in, eh? No choices for the chicks.”

“It’s the only way to roll.”

Weather-wise, an extreme cold front was moving across the area. Done dressing, wearing a black turtleneck and tight-fitting slacks, Brad turned his attractive body and face to the full length mirror and scrutinized himself carefully. “Hmm,” he said, adjusting the cuffs of his turtleneck slightly. “There.” He swung round and saw Tom staring at him. “What?”

“Brad? When’re you going to get a girlfriend?”

“Sex fucks up the training, bro. I believe that.”

“But you’ve won now. You can let down your hair, so to speak.”

“True. Maybe I will find a girlfriend.”

And they went outside to meet the flying Porsche.

3.

The Porsche glided down into the 45-second landing strip. The clock was ticking already as it set down. Edith Tremolo popped open the gull wing doors and the landing struts held the cool machine like a gift from the gods. Edith wasn’t a bad second place, either.

A crooked smile lined her face. She wore lipstick but no other makeup. “Hop in, boys,” she said. “I saw the fight on the holodeck in the car. You were magnificent, Mr. Quinn.”

Brad Quinn was just staring. Tom snapped two fingers in front of his face. Brad blinked rapidly several times. “Oh. Thanks,” he said lamely. He sat in the back while Tom of course got shotgun.

“I love your eyes, Edith,” Brad said from the back.

Edith smiled ruefully and brushed back a tussle of brown hair. “Not a certain ‘nother part of my anatomy, Mr. Quinn?”

“No, I mean it. You have spectacular eyes. They’re almost purple.”

“They’re Mediterranean blue,” Edith said. “The Tremolos swear to be all Italian, but I swear there’s a Viking somewhere in the lineage.”

Brad laughed at the innocuous comment. Tom was looking at him with arched eyebrows. That was a simpering, beta-male laugh. The laugh of one trying to get along and be positive. And that comment about her eyes. Tom thought her tits were her best feature. When in the presence of those babies, he never even got to her eyes, truth be told. Blue eyes? They could have been orange for all Tom knew, or cared.

They flew in a wide loop over Central Paris. Traffic was moderate at this time of night, but it never really got down to light traffic. There was always some intensity in the air.

Tom dropped his arm around Edith’s shoulders in a proprietary way. He wasn’t too worried about her switching allegiance from himself to Brad — that would be most unlikely — but he felt better making the demonstration, anyway.

“Let’s go to a bar,” Tom said. “The auto-pilot can take us home.”

They landed, converted the car into a Porsche briefcase, and walked into the Damn Yankee, a bar that catered to American Parisiens and American tourists. Nothing but English could be heard inside the bar. Edith pushed the briefcase underneath her stool at the bar and ordered a Shirley Temple. Edith played with the cherry seductively in her teeth and then swallowed it with a kiss.

The Damn Yankee had pictures of American Senators and ball players from baseball to football. Gary Ropp, current quarterback of the Toronto Tiger-Cats in the AFC league of the NFL, was pictured smiling with the owner of the bar, a greasy Frenchmen named Antoine DeRissie. Antoine was in the bar now, serving as bartender, and laughing with a group of 20 Americans who were toasting one another for the size of their balls (their guts).

Brad Quinn dropped his jacket on this cool night and the Americans turned to notice him right away. “Mr. Quinn! Mr. Quinn! Could I have your autograph?”

Brad picked up a Swiss fountain pen and scrawled a large, ornate signature on a football. It had two other signatures on it, Ropp’s being one of them.

Tom let his friend be swallowed up in the crowd of curious Americans. He sidled up to Edith and put his hands on her rear end, squeezing her lovingly. He loved to play with her body, especially in public.

“Glad you came?” he whispered in her perfect ear. She nodded, and her hair brushed against his cheek sexily.

“It’s good to be away from the boy. Did I tell you? He was crouched outside my door last night while I was asleep. I woke up to use the bathroom and practically knocked him over on his bum.” She shook her head and laughed softly at the memory. “Max is a danger, but not yet, not yet please God.”

“I tried intimidating him at the playground,” Tom said. “Word got back to me. He killed one of his intimidators. No one’s saying anything about it, though. These French kids have no liking for the authorities.”

Edith clapped her hand to her mouth. “Dead? A man?”

“A teenager, not a man. I hired a gang of them to deal with him. I wanted to suppress him. To push him out of commission, without hurting him badly. It got out of control.” He sighed impatiently. These things often did. Getting out of control was the consequence of amateurs dealing in serious business.

For some reason, Tom Premuzic thought of Adolf Hitler, another creative amateur who rose above his station and bumbled things once there. Amateurs and serious business: like oil and water. They do not mix.

It was midnight in the bar, which meant it was time for Skinny Puppy. The group’s Bites album came on the speakers.

Tom Premuzic found himself swaying to the music hypnotically, only semi-aware of it. Edith shivered. “This music scares me.”

“Does Premuzic scare you?” Tom Premuzic asked innocently.

“Yes, sometimes,” she said seriously. “That’s part of your allure. Your fascination. For me, it is about the mind, not the body.”

“As a psychiatrist, I’m all about the mind.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “you have things rather weighted on that end.”

Rot — and — assimilate! came the lead singer of the long-dead group rising out of the ashes like a Phoenix.

. . . annihilate!

He took her hands and rubbed them. They were cold.

A consequence of the music?

A result of too-boisterous American men pressing close?

Who knew. Tom massaged her back muscles, and she relaxed her tits forward. She made a totally streamlined image of Woman like a cartoon girl. Tom wanted to suck on her breasts here and now, but the public venue daunted him enough to put the kibosh on that. “You’re special,” Tom whispered to Edith Tremolo.

“Thank you,” she said, closing her eyes and leaning her chilly body back against him. My God, she was like ice! Leaving Brad behind, they went upstairs and rented a room above the bar for two hours. Tom got a hot bath running while Edith weakly wandered around the room, picking up photos of French monuments and stopping to look at the Louvre’s pyramid while water rumbled in the background.

“This bath is going to be so good, you’ll see,” Tom said. “And if you’re feeling up to it, I’ll join you.”

There was seaweed-colored bubble bath in a plastic container. Tom took the squeeze bottle and issued forth a fifth of the bottle. A mountain of bubbles soon grew up. The water was pleasantly hot to the touch when Tom lifted up from the side of the tub. He went to the next room and took care of Edith. Stripping off her clothes (he was concerned about her, but still absorbed by those melons) he carried her into the next room, into the bathroom. He cautiously lay her prone body in the water. She sighed and all her skin pores opened up, welcoming the heat. Tom stripped down to his underwear, his erection tenting it, and then plucked the undies off too. He sat on the edge of the tub, putting his hairy legs down into the water. The water sloshed, moving the fine hairs on his legs. Music came from outside the window, a new Skinny Puppy album, Remission.

“The DSM 12 is coming out this fall,” Tom Premuzic said. “Dirty dozen. The nuclear attack on Brooklyn added a host of new mental syndromes to the charts on Ten. A new variety of Post-Traumatic Shock . . .” Tom continued rambling on in his deep, comforting voice. Edith liked it when he did this. When he just held forth on a random subject, giving it his all, showing he was interested, really interested.

Edith was like a kind of emotional vampire. She fed on your emotions and used them to sustain herself. She liked positive emotions the best, but moody and bitter were close behind on her fav list.

She lolled her neck now. Tom was disappointed that the mountain of bubbles hid even her gigantic breasts. He delved his hands under the bubble-sheath and felt her up. Her firm breasts had softened with the water. Edith’s eyelashes flickered in time to his ministrations.

Tom slid his cock into her parted lips. He used two fingers to open her mouth a bit wider to fit himself in. Her wet cavern of a mouth closed around his length companionably and began to suck like a baby on a pacifier. When he came, he pulled out and shot sperm all over her face, which he rubbed in with two firm fingers. There was a shower across the bathroom and he took a quick rinse to clean himself off.

A gentle tinkling of a bell reminded them they only had ten minutes left. Tom gave Edith enough money to take a cab home and went downstairs to fly Brad off into privacy in the skies.

4.

“Wow, her eyes! Did you see Edith’s eyes?”

“I see them every day,” Tom said grumpily. “You’re exaggerating. They’re just eyes.”

“Well, I am blown away. Fully impressed, if you must know the truth.”

“I’m glad you think I made the right choice for mistress.”

“You did, you did! I wish I was the man in your combat boots!”

“No, you don’t. You’d have to deal with her son, then, Max. I’m telling you, that boy is dangerous.” He went on to explain the full circle of events, concluding with the playground attack on Max ordered by Tom. Brad had fallen silent as the narrative continued.

“That really happened?” Brad said finally.

“No joshing around.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Hope that the playground terrorizing was enough to put the boy off. Warning him he was playing with fire against fire.”

“Won’t people think the skeletons were weird?”

“Nah. It’s the Twenty-Second Century. Special effects have advanced far, and are used in daily life. People will just assume the skeletons were techno-mirages.”

“It’s only when you get close that you know they’re really real.”

“Right.”

“I bet you can smell the stink of death on them up close.”

Uneasy, Tom swerved the Porsche aircar into a new lane. “Probably.”

“Skeletons and gargoyles. A tag team match from hell.”

“Uh huh.”

“Which are worse, do you think?”

“The gargoyles,” Tom said unhesitatingly. “They’re harder to drop.”

“Drop . . . I’d like to drop your girl on a bed. No offense, Tom.”

Tom shrugged. “You’re never getting her, so none taken.”

“How did you meet her, Tom? I’m dying to hear.”

Tom thought about it for a second, then declined to stoke Brad’s interest further. He remained quiet and hummed a snatch of Skinny Puppy music to himself while he air-drove.

Brad took the hint and didn’t ask twice. They were flying over the Arc now. The squat, four-pillared structure rose up from the ground to meet them. Tom skidded hard on the Arc, showing off the Porsche’s moves, and coming to a complete stop not twenty feet from the edge. Brad clapped him on the shoulder: Good show.

They went down the escalator into the purple-lighted concourse and the shadows. The steps were pitted concrete. Steps sat between the dual escalators, one going up, one leading down.

Brad put his finger on the door pad. He had access to their apartment as a close friend. He ran in the room with his arms up as a champion and the Premuzic boys rushed around him, cheering. “Uncle Brad! You won!” (He wasn’t really an uncle, but this was their warm appellation for him.)

“Yeah, I did. Thanks in no small part to my training partner, your Dad, here!”

“We saw it all on the pay-per-view,” Fast Eddie blurted. “You were 100% kickass, Uncle Brad. When you swept that guy off his feet, we were friggin’ breathless.”

“Hold onto your lungs, cuz there’s more moves like that coming up. Karate is the way of the future, boys. A most underrated art.”

Karate, meaning Way of the Empty Hand, had its birth in the early Twentieth Century, a surprisingly modern date for such an esteemed art. Its worldwide spread was accelerated in the dawn of the Twenty-Second Century with the release of a trilogy of science fiction films, the Naming trilogy.

In the Naming trilogy, a new world is discovered, and fighting breaks out to colonize (and name) the new lands. A superior alien race bans high-tech weapons, and resort is made to hand-to-hand fighting. In the final scene of the trilogy, the hero kicks the head off a metal opponent . . . a robot general doing the bidding of the evil Mr. Roboto. Mr. Roboto is discovered to be a small mutant man hiding behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz. The lesson being, that sometimes evil is small and inconsequential, and comes in innocuous packages. Maybe like Max, Tom thought.

Brad plopped down on a seat and Jerzy jumped into his lap.

Brad ruffled the kid’s hair. “Would you like to be a champion someday, Jerzy?”

“Sure!”

“Just train immensely hard for twenty years. At whatever art you choose. And you may become a champion.”

“Or maybe not,” Tom said, gliding forward and scooping his son off Brad’s lap. “Time for bed, Jerzy. You should have been asleep hours ago. The two older boys can stay up.”

“Yes!!” they pumped fists together up in the air.

Jerzy, moaning, reluctantly dragged his heels out of the room.

Sebastian and Fast Eddie surrounded Brad, kneeling at his side, listening to his tales of combat in the ring first-hand how it was. Meanwhile, Tom thought of Max and Edith and what Edith had said about him crouching outside her room.

That boy is impossible, Tom thought. If only I could just eliminate him somehow. He’s a cancer on the face of the earth. Nothing good can come of him and his ability. His ability . . . yes. If only I could somehow remove it from his power ensemble. He’d be just a little boy with a bad temper, then. If I could remove his power to reanimate, then he would be powerless. He’d be . . . like little sweet-natured Jerzy. Maybe he’d even improve his attitude, then.

Wandering the room in a self-hypnotic trance, Tom bumped his nose on the wall. He chuckled self-consciously to himself, and rubbed his nose, but no one had noticed. They were all in a scrum with Brad as the origin point.

Let’s think the impossible for a moment, shall we? Is it possible to excise the animate-skill like bad tissue? To get rid of it and flick it aside? How would that work? Would a sharp blow to Max’s head make him forget how to use the power? How to test such a theory?

Fight fire with fire. Clock him one and find out.

No. What if it just angers the boy?

Max’s already enraged. He can’t get any angrier, by now.

So we didn’t scare him?

No, doubtful. It probably just hardened Max further, from the reports that we got.

Max Tremolo . . . Max Tremolo . . .

A black cancer on the face of the earth.

The Romans called slaves the tool that speaks. I call Max the cancer that speaks. And besides, that boy is a slave to his desires, without limit.

Chapter 7

It was raining, a light rain flecking the windows, when he got to her house.

{to be continued elsewhere…}

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