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February 13, 2012

Scumbag Lake (Preview)

 “Give me the long version this time.”
Ein stretched across the back seat, his eyes peering out the car’s window and toward the overcast sky.  “You sure?”
Claude took one hand off the wheel to push up his glasses -- his usual signal of “you’re pissing me off.”  For a minute, he didn’t answer; he had a feeling he wouldn’t like where the story went.  “What choice do I have?”
“You could just, I dunno, not ask.”
“But how will I ever get to sleep if I don’t have another one of your tales of idiocy to soothe me?”
Ein sat up and stared blankly at the back of Claude’s seat.  “You still need a bedtime story to get to sleep?  Weak.”
“I should have left you on the street to die, you simpleton!”

Ein lay back once more.  “You keep losin’ your cool like that, and your brain’s gonna pop.  That ain’t manly.”  He ran a hand through his hair, a shock of black vines that would make even a bed head snicker.  His gangly frame managed to squeeze between the car doors, though he had to bend his knees to fit comfortably.  Despite that, he rested his head on the door handle, staring at the sky with a face between a scowl and a smirk; his ragged brows almost always looked furrowed, and his beady gray eyes looked less than inviting (and about ten seconds away from turning the nearest face into a sack of bruised meat). 

He took a deep breath.  “Okay.  So I went to Sporty’s to grab some chicken wings for dinner, when I notice there’s some asshole sitting on my favorite stool --”

“Oh, Lord…”

Ein waved his hands through the air to illustrate, taking pride in seeing the athletic tape wrapped over them.  “So I go over there and I say, real nice-like, ‘Hey!  Asshole!  That’s my stool!’  And so he’s just sittin’ there, rockin’ back and forth and knockin’ a few screws out of the bottom --”

“Oh, Lord…”
Ein grabbed at an invisible head, and swung his arm through the air.  “So I grab him, and slam his head into his plate -- oh, and there’s blood everywhere --” He shot a glance at the back of Claude’s seat, his face curled into a frown.  “Hey, you’re not lookin’!  I grabbed him like this, and --”
“Honestly, what good is having a head if you never use it?”
Ein clapped his hands together and smiled.  “Ah, that’s right!  After I smashed that guy’s plate with his face, I totally gave him a headbutt.  Thanks for remindin’ me.”
“You shouldn’t be proud of that!”
“Why not?  Name me another man in Ellisville who can headbutt a guy without sheddin’ a tear.”
“Damn it, Ein!”  The car came to a stop behind a red light, allowing Claude to turn back to his fight-happy passenger.  A young dandy of the modern age, he’d picked up Ein while wearing his typical ensemble: black slacks, a cummerbund, suspenders, and tie, all set against a blue dress shirt with white pin stripes.  Man that he might have been (though sometimes Ein couldn’t help but wonder), Claude had groomed his coiffure to perfection; his sandy hair shone so brightly, he might as well have strapped his head to the sun.  Though he normally had a cool, almost smarmy look about him, his blue eyes nearly popped out of his head and slammed into his glasses.  “Violence is NOT the answer to all of life’s problems!  Do you have any idea what the word ‘consequences’ means?  Do you?”
Ein nodded.  “It means ‘don’t sit on my favorite stool.’”
Claude pushed up his glasses once more.  “It means ‘don’t do something that’ll get you thrown in jail or sued.’  It’s a miracle you aren’t living on the streets already; why push your luck with such wanton acts of insanity?”
Ein tilted his head like a confused puppy.  “Wanton?  What’s that mean?”
“It means --”
“Are they like croutons?  ‘Cause I hate those.”
Claude let out a groan that drowned out the sound of his engine.  He turned back to the road ahead; the light had turned green, and so he continued piloting his Lexus down the road.  “So I take it your story isn’t done yet,” he said curtly.  His eyes drifted to the rearview mirror, giving him a full view of his friend’s clothing: dusty, torn, with a few dried bloodstains thrown into the mix.  As always, he’d taken to wearing a Freddy Kruger-striped t-shirt, which clung to his lean form, and an old hooded vest whose dyes had faded into a deep gray.  Splashes of mud rose up the legs of his pants, with splotches of white reaching as high as his thigh.  And beyond his much-adored handwraps, he’d strapped a few bandages around his legs, his arms, and even plastered a few strips across his face.  Claude could only assume that most of it was for some twisted (or rather, sorry) sense of style, but complaining about it wouldn’t do him any good.  He knew how hard-headed Ein could be…particularly since he’d seen him smash a brick wall with his forehead on a dare.
“Yeah.  So after that, the guy calls over some of his pals -- real un-manly of him,” Ein continued; he balled his hands into fists and jabbed at the air.  “So we take it outside, and then -- I shit you not -- all these Mohawk-wearin’ goons come out of the woodworks.  So I just start wailin’ on ‘em, one after another, and then I totally grabbed this fat dude like this, and --”
Claude reached into his pocket and pulled out an Advil.  His guess was spot-on; this little taxi ride DID give him a headache.
“Hey!  Hey, you didn’t look!  Come on, man.  Not cool.”
After Claude swallowed the pill, he sighed heavily.  “So does this story have a point, or is it just the tale of how you got away with manslaughter?”
“Oh yeah, it’s got a point.  I was just buildin’ it up a little, you know?  Dramatic tension and all that.”  He swept a hand through the air.  “So anyway, that’s when this huge shipping crate comes fallin’ right outta the sky, and slams into the guy who took my stool.”
“I said that that’s when this huge --”
“I heard you the first time!  But…but, honestly, a shipping crate?  One sturdy enough to survive plummeting from well above ground level, and heading towards the earth at the gravitational constant of nine point eight meters per second -- ”
“You know how I feel about science, Claude.  That ain’t manly.”
“A giant crate falls atop your dancing partner and leaves you unharmed?”
“What?  No.  Friggin’ box blew up the whole block.  Almost tore my face off from the blast.”  Ein waved a hand through the air, as if to dismiss something as unimportant as a nigh-meteoric detonation.  “So when I got up, I think to myself, ‘Man, that guy’s toast.  Seriously, burnt toast.  That was a good one liner.  I should save that for later and tell it to Claude.’”
“That was an awful --”
“But just when I’m about to call it a night, some crazy masked dude shows up and starts screamin’, ‘My bombs!  My beautiful, beautiful bombs!  All my plans, dashed!’ And whatnot.  Now that I think about it, he kinda talked like you -- all proper-like and not makin’ any sense to anybody but himself.  Kinda annoyin’, you know what I mean?”
“Well, excuse me for expressing my erudite nature!”
Ein furrowed an eyebrow.  “There you go again, you frilly-pants wearin’ dandy.”
“I’ll have you know those pants were a gift from my uncle!”
“And you still wore ‘em.”
“Out of courtesy!  Nothing more!”
“Yeah, yeah.”  Ein shrugged.  “So anyway, that bomb guy.  I dunno, man, I think he was a terrorist.  Wearin’ a mask, goin’ on and on about his explosives, being pretty all-around un-American by blowin’ up my seat…I think we oughta do something.”
Claude had to struggle against the urge to slam his head against the wheel.  “Accusing someone of being a terrorist is a serious matter.  Do you have any evidence to support your claims?”
“Yeah.  He blew up my favorite stool.”
Claude gave in to his base desires; he slammed his head on the wheel as hard as he could.  “Damn it, Ein!  I’ve had it up to here with your cockamamie adventures!  Ellisville is already ridiculous enough without your little escapades -- don’t make things any worse than they already are!”
Ein turned away from the clouds and peered at his good buddy.  “You act like that’s a bad thing,” he argued.  “If there weren’t so much weird crap goin’ on all the time, how would any of us prove we’re manly?”
Claude shook his head.  “Listen, you,” he began, his rage reaching fortissimo, “and listen well.  You’re your own man, I acknowledge that.  All I ask in return is that you allow me to do the same.  Don’t drag me down into your affairs when you know I have special matters to attend to.”
Ein scratched at his head.  “I don’t follow you.”
“You do whatever you feel like doing.  But for one night -- TONIGHT -- do NOT involve me in any way.  Don’t ask me to help you in a street brawl, or evacuate a burning building, and most certainly not to create a one-to-one scale model of Hungry Hungry Hippos.”
“Look, I already got the giant marbles --”
“I don’t want to hear it!”  Claude swerved the Lexus into a nearby parking lot (with a drift that would make Vin Diesel proud), and glared at his pugnacious passenger.  “If you call on me, I won’t come.  I’ll leave you to burn, or rot, or drown, wherever you may be.  You need to learn that I won’t always be there to save you -- and the best way to do that is to have you learn first-hand what your actions may bring!”
Ein stared coolly at Claude for all of eight seconds.  And before he said anything more, the scrapper bolted out of the car.
It’s like talking to a moose, Claude thought.  Still, he figured that letting Ein walk around unsupervised was a wildfire waiting to happen.  He sprang out of the car and started after Ein.  As luck would have it, they’d stopped in Ellisville’s famed Ridgeline Park; the rolling knolls whipped against Claude’s thighs, and a slew of critters fluttered into the air with each new step.  The hills led him down to a flat expanse, with playground equipment -- swings, a merry-go-round, and slides -- on his left, with a large pond a few clicks ahead.
Claude caught up to Ein, but kept his distance; his buddy had drummed up a conversation with a crying little girl.  In fact, he just stood there, patting her on the shoulder, and consoling her as if he was her older brother.  And he hadn’t even thrown so much as a right hook! 
I never would have guessed that he was even capable of a peaceable discussion, Claude thought, stroking his chin.  Perhaps I was a bit too quick to judge him.
Meanwhile, Ein patted the girl atop the head.  “So cheer up, all right?” he asked, with his rough visage now as soft as a newly-minted father’s.  “You’re a cute little girl, you know that?  So it won’t do ya any good to look all sad.”
The girl dropped lowered her hands from her face.  “B-but…”
“Just leave it to me, all right?  If there’s anythin’ I can do to cheer ya up, I’ll do it.”  He tapped a hand against one of his biceps.  “’Cause that’s what men do.”
The girl sniffled.  “M-my seeds,” she confessed.  “I was gonna take them home and plant them in my backyard.  B-b-but those swans came near me, and I got scared, a-and…”
Claude’s face soured.  Swans?  He looked at the pond -- sure enough, a small flock of them slid across the water, necks curved and white feathers a-ruffling.  Well, I suppose it couldn’t be helped.  He waved a hand at Ein.  “Come on.  If it’s to lend aid to this girl, I would gladly buy her some more seeds.  It’s of no consequence to me.”
Ein stood up and nodded.  “Yeah.  You take the girl.  I got some business to take care of.”
He turned toward the pond, and popped his knuckles.
“Takin’ you punks DOWN!” he roared.  He rushed to the pond, and flung his body into the water.  “Jackass swans!  Gonna tie all your necks into a knot!  That’ll teach ya not to scare a little girl!”  And of course, he’d made his little declaration while wading through the waist-high water, splashing and thrashing about, and planting his fists into the faces of several water fowl.
Claude, aghast, covered the little girl’s eyes.  “A bit of self-control would be much appreciated,” he called out while his buddy caught a swan in a headlock.
“Eat it, swan!” Ein yelled, just before busting the beak of his captive.  He flung the swan through the air, and started his rampage anew -- with his arms lashing about, he stampeded through one bird after another, hitting them so hard that clumps of feathers exploded from their bodies.
Claude almost threw up.  “I think I’ll take the girl to the flower shop now,” he yelled over the chaos, covering his eyes to protect his fragile sensibilities.  “You…you just keep…mindlessly attacking.”  He stepped backwards, horrified at the symphony of honks and flapping just a few feet away.
“You’re not gettin’ away that easy, you ugly duckling wannabe!” Ein howled, clutching a swan by the ankle as it tried to fly away.  He swung the bird around his head like a lasso, and slammed it into another set of swans trying to escape.  “Jackass swans!  Who said you could run from a fight?  That ain’t manly!”
Claude (in the safety of his car) rolled down his window and waved at Ein.  “We’re going now.  Have fun!  And remember: don’t interfere with my plans tonight!”
“Here’s a little somethin’ I learned from WrestleMania!” Ein yelled in the distance.
“I assume that’s your stamp of approval.”  Claude turned to the girl in the passenger seat.  “Now, then.  What do you say we go and get you some more seeds?”
The little girl looked up at Claude with wide eyes.  “Mister, are you kidnapping me?  I-I think I need an adult…”
Claude ground his teeth.  She’d just seen someone commit swanslaughter, but somehow HE was the bad guy?

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