TVTO MORNING REPORT
THE FIRST POR-TEE-OH STATE BANK BUILDING HAS BEEN A LOCAL LANDMARK FOR DECADES…BUT THE RECENT ECONOMIC DOWNTURN…AND SEVERE DAMAGE FROM HURRICANE EDNA…HAVE RENDERED THE HISTORIC STRUCTURE UNTENABLE.
DESPITE PROTESTS FROM VARIOUS GROUPS…THE BELOVED BUILDING WILL BE DEMOLISHED LATER TODAY.
THE FIFTEEN-STORY EDIFICE WAS BUILT IN NINETEEN-SIXTY-THREE, MODELED AFTER THE STYLE OF FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. LONG KNOWN AS…THE TALL LADY OF PORTILLO…THIS STRIKING EXAMPLE OF MID-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE WILL CERTAINLY BE MISSED.
Portillo, TX – Present
Rex slept into the morning, still fully dressed. He had dozed off during a classic episode of the anthology series Dark Frontiers, wherein St. John’s tooth is discovered to be embedded in a meteorite fallen from space, identical to one stored in a famous reliquary, it’s origin yet undiscovered when the two are united in a riotous paradox.
Soft yellow sunlight poured in, cresting over the back of the couch where Rex lay inert. From the TV, Bob Barker reminded him to help control the stray pet population. A glitzy synthesizer surrendered to a somber string pad.
A chiseled man with fluffy hair addressed a tan woman with even fluffier hair, “I wish you could just talk to me.”
“I…I’m not ready Robert,” she replied, turning to be captured by another camera, in a dramatic close-up. “Not yet.”
Rex dreamed, returning to a moment the day before, Heather’s kiss, the first one in so long. It happened slowly, and the feeling had the color of sunset. As he withdrew, he looked down and saw, protruding from Heather’s stomach, a shaft connected by five spokes to an iron ring, painted a slick red. He grasped the wheel, turning it, and this motion caused Heather’s head to tremble and chatter like a morbid wind-up toy. He did this twice more, confused and horrified.
Rex was brought abruptly to full consciousness by his buzzing pager. He turned over, holding the little LCD close to his bleary eyes. The sequence of digits on the readout was unfamiliar, but he endeavored to return the call. He fumbled his phone into use, tugging on the tangled cord, thumbing the number into the handset. The other end trilled – once, twice. He cleared his throat, to ensure his first spoken words of the morning would not sound froggy.
“I need a shooter. Stig said you were available. You shoot Beta?”
Rex snapped upright. He was being summoned for work. He rubbed his eyes.
“S-VHS, three chip, superior resolution -”
“That’ll have to do, my other guy got sick. Can you be at the Portillo bank building in an hour?”
Rex could just barely see the top of the bank building from the stair landing in front of his apartment. It had been there as long as he could remember. He recalled visiting it as a child. The lobby was exquisitely decorated every December, a huge fir in the center ablaze with lights, motorized tableau of elves and reindeer, a stately nativity scene, and Santa Claus on Saturdays. Every May, seniors from Portillo or North Channel High would corrupt the decorative fountain in front, with laundry detergent or dye, or both. He recalled his mother’s windshield wipers swishing off green foam, blown into traffic at a red light.
The structure loomed larger as he drove down Center Street, the damage from Edna evident. Sections of brick had been sheared off. Decorative glass accents at the roof of the building – irreplaceable – had been destroyed. Invisible forces had worked on the Tall Lady as well: Black Monday, the S&L crisis. The building, and the adjacent, aging section of the city, were in decline.
The lot where the building stood in its final hour was encircled by a temporary safety barricade, and that by bustling throng of spectators. Rex parked, several blocks away, and hustled forward with his gear. He marveled at the crowd. At its edge, two men sang and played Un Puño de Tierra on accordion and bajo sexto, one wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat, and the other having laid his on the ground for tips. Young and old alike, including children obviously kept home from school, were straining to get a last look, to witness history. Some held signs futilely protesting the demolition, others bore photos of themselves visiting or working at the doomed building, in days past.
Rex was dripping sweat by the time he got to the chain-link barrier. He told a security guard the name of his contact inside, David Halfort, who worked for the parent bank company, in a capacity Rex did not fully understand. David appeared, and gave Rex a hardhat and safety glasses. He escorted Rex to a position near the firing post. Several other cameramen and news crews were already in place, prepared to capture every angle. David explained the shot he needed Rex to record, encompassing a compact, black-haired woman in a hardhat, who would trigger the demolition sequence, and a wide angle of the building itself.
“This is Kelly Lim, of Santa Barbara Demolition,” David introduced, and rushed off to other business on the site.
“The engineers are doing a final check. We have about twenty minutes,” said Kelly.
“Thanks,” said Rex.
He proceeded with his preparation ritual, tripod, camera, tape, battery; the latter he hoped would hold out, as it was uncharged since the previous day. Rex, satisfied with his arrangement, perused Kelly’s control panel. The console was of heavy steel, powder-coated safety yellow. It appeared to be portable, intended to mate with a protective shell, and mounted on foldable legs. A bundle of wires snaked away from it, toward the doomed building. Kelly noticed his investigation.
“Take a good look, she won’t be there in a few more minutes.”
“If you do your job right,” said Rex, lightly.
“A shame, so many hands it took to build her,” said Kelly, admiring the style of the construction. “All the effort it took to raise this building is stored, in the structure, like a battery. All it takes to release that energy is to kick the legs out from under it.”
She made a horizontal slicing motion with the edge of her small, pale hand.
So much power in that tiny hand, thought Rex.
“It’s a kind of sorcery, the application of will. I control the means to amplify and direct the sheer desire to destroy this building. Many men built it; a few want to tear it down; I alone will make it so.”
Kelly held up a single, slim finger, and after a beat pointed it at Rex’s chest.
“Time to work, Flex,” she said, with eerie intensity.
Her pronunciation of his name baffled him, but there was no time. As he stepped back behind his camera, activating it, a klaxon began. Kelly counted down from ten, through a megaphone, her free hand poised over a red mushroom-like button.
The crowd roared – even those opposed to the act – relenting to the inevitability of the spectacle. A series of small puffs travelled down the face of the Tall Lady, each followed microseconds later by a sharp crack: a foley track for that verse of Revelation, the disintegrating tower a door, and He standing beyond, rapping. The building shuddered and began collapsing from the top down, thundering as it fell. A cloud of white dust billowed out of the lower floors, which had been stripped out to prepare for this moment. As gravity reclaimed the mass of concrete and steel and glass, the sun was revealed behind it, throwing Rex’s shot into unpleasant contrast. He raised his head from the viewfinder, and his eyes were stung by raw sunlight.
Rex was suddenly reminded to remember something. A notion of an inkling. A forgotten impulse, a neglected assignment. As the dust settled, and the crowd dispersed, Rex was seized by the realization he needed to wrest a recollection from the wrinkles of his unconscious mind. He would need to return to the place where he first had the thought; recreate the circumstances under which the idea first arrived. Rex stowed his gear and began the hike back to his car. As he passed, the trovadores crooned Volver.
Rex drove, searching his memory. He detoured through the Sol-Mart parking lot, and when he saw the sunburst “0”, he stomped on the gas pedal.
Rex stepped once again through the entry ofthe Mobius Strip, a large mirrored octagon, which seemed to be a hold-over from an earlier, more flamboyant decoration scheme.
I never go to these places, Rex reminded himself.
A fine dusting of pulverized concrete covered him, glowing bright purplish-white under backlight, making him even more self-conscious. Rex tried to recall the details of his visit the day before. He got some chicken wings and sat at the same booth. He peeped through the fern to confirm the larger, adjacent booth was empty. The bigwigs’ strange whisperings came to his ears again, for a moment.
A different waitress, this one with feathery brown hair, and a peppier disposition, stepped to his table.
“Shiner, please,” said Rex.
Poison’s Unskinny Bop faded out, and the duo from the day before took their place on a side stage, initiated their electric thump. A dancer emerged on the center catwalk – the same? he couldn’t tell. She commenced with her angular, lunging movements.
The pert brunette returned. Rex went in his pocket for some loose bills, and realized he still had the filmstrip. He quickly exchanged the money for his bottle, and pulled out the sprocket-holed coil. He searched each frame, until he reached the image of the valve wheel. The moment was, at last, sufficiently reconstructed. A strobe flickered through the little square, entrancing him once again.
The lady musician repeated a phrase in a husky whisper, “the strangest of pleasures, the strangest of pleasures.”
In Rex’s ear, it turned into a mantra, “Dangerous Pressures, Dangerous Pressures…”
He let the moment instruct him, the feeling compel him. He took a pen from his shirt pocket, along with one of his business cards. On the blank side, his hand moving almost automatically, he wrote the same four words, reclaimed from his murky remembrance of the day before:
BLOW UP AIR TODAY
He still did not understand it, but he intended to make sense of it.
After a moment, Rex felt very strongly that he need no longer remain in this place. He gripped the table, resisting an urge to bolt to the door. He sat a few more minutes, finished the Shiner, defleshed more chicken wings.
Idly, Rex flipped the card around in his fingers. Then, he was braced by a profound rage. The card – surely all of them – was misprinted. The phone number and title were correct, but his name read: Flex Janneter. How had this escaped his attention? All that effort to assert his identity, and nobody even noticed the mistake. Rex stalked out of the club and gunned the Crown Vic hatefully across Portillo to the Office Barn.
I am Kyle Blyte. My stepdad is super enojado. He gave me the afternoon off from the shop. Which is not to say I’m a proper employee, but he lets me do the work, to learn the trade. Today I am not welcome. I violated a trust. He put that in somewhat harsher words, but he could have come down a lot harder. Darrell’s alright. I did waste a jar of primer. I was in a less than rational state this morning. The school nurse had to get a jug of acetone from Mr. Goldman, the chemistry teacher, which went a long way to getting the paint off, but damn it burned. Most people thought I was loco, some true fans admired my alarde de ardor.
I’m still having some profound feelings about the VM situation, which I turn over in the old cabeza as I walk down Center Street. There’s some kind of law enforcement action in front of the office supply store. Two PPD black & whites are on the scene, flashbars blinking red and blue. There’s a guy in with a red mustache, he’s in handcuffs. He keeps yelling wrecks! wrecks!
I know, pot-kettle-black, or whatever, but what a freak.
Portillo, TX – Afternoon
The MoloChem Anniversary Celebration Planning Committee was coming to order. A few of the convened quorum stood looking past the office windows into the adjoining warehouse. Rory O’Mega and his fellow performers occupied the space, working out the logistics of their upcoming production.
What few knew was that Rory had been signed for a fraction of his usual fees, to maintain his work visa. He had some trouble brewing back home, regarding a young, overly zealous fan, alleging certain pernicious indiscretions. Southeast Texas was not his first choice of locales, but he was happy to prolong his residence in the States. The arrangement had been facilitated by MoloChem’s affiliation with O’Mega’s uncle, the CFO of a Danish plastics concern.
Clyde Tate gawked through Venetian blinds. “They’re manufacturing music, by electronic means, rather than with traditional instruments.”
“Takes a very creative person, I suppose,” replied Ray Holmes, likewise peeping.
“It takes a person who anticipates there’s a market for that type of music. Like a pioneer. I gotta say, I admire a forward-thinking fella like that.”
“They say the kids like it,” said Ray.
“I prefer Eddie Rabbitt,” said Kenzie, stepping up behind them. They all took a seat at a long table.
“Thanks so much for meeting today,” Kenzie began.
“First item, we haven’t had much feedback on the name contest, we have to think of something snappy to call this high energy event.”
The stoic representative from HR had nothing to add, presently, nor did anyone else. Kenzie moved on.
“As y’all have seen, the preparations for the entertainment portion are under way.” She passed around a photocopied page. “Here’s a list of the midway vendors, rides, games, concessions. We’ve just secured a video service to record the anniversary presentation.”
Kenzie laid down a business card reading:
Vid ’em All – Video Production Services for Every Occasion.
The Hatchet Man noted the address on the card. He had a matter of personal business to take there.
He waited for Kenzie to offer any details about Molo’s presence, the opportunity to be close to the old man; preferably, at arm’s length.
Portillo, TX – Present
Rex slunk down the steps of the Portillo Police Department building, ashamed, furious with himself. He had been released without charges, but his car was a half-hour walk away. There was no way he would be on time to meet up with Heather. He had ruined his chance of reconciling with her, over a simple typo and a foolish overreaction. He had lain so deep in depressive torpor, for so long, that a display of anger such as he had unleashed at the service counter of the Office Barn felt like birthing a snarling, feral creature. In, truth, fits of rage were common to him, when he was not enervated with emotional catatonia. This afternoon’s outburst, however, was of unprecedented ferocity.
Rex fished his personal effects from a manila envelope, and halted at a pay phone. He had to leave her a message, at least. Rex pushed a quarter in the chrome face of the phone. It was an old rotary model. He flicked the dial for each of the seven digits: sweep, click-click-click. He waited through a half-dozen rings, and Heather’s sweet voice inviting him to speak after the tone. Rex inhaled to speak, and just then the South Coast Safety Committee system test began, echoing around him. He froze, perturbed, and finally uttered three words, “Heather, I’m sorry.”
Rex waited a few more seconds, and gave up, slamming the handset down. The anger flickered again, and he slammed the handset twice more. He had been this angry when he got laid off, weeks before. Maybe, like the rotary dial, his emotions were destined to cycle through this same iteration: anger, depression, hope, disappointment. Click, click, click, click.
He started walking back to his car, to drive home, to retreat to his empty apartment, and lonesome darkness.