The Fiction of Owen Thomas

Henry & Biggs:
Adventure Blog of a Literary Agent and His Beagle

Henry

Chapter 12: The Drowning Pool

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Date: February 16
Time: 8:15 p.m.


Biggs walks through the house with a plastic bottle in one hand and his cell phone in the other. The plastic bottle is blue with a torn label. It came from the garage along with two large orange towels that Biggs has spread out on the floor of the bathroom. The plastic blue bottle is the harbinger of doom. It is the color and shape of my dread and humiliation. The plastic blue bottle from the garage is the Beagle-equivalent of a credit card bill in the mailbox. It is a reckoning of the past and no one likes a reckoning. Especially Beagles.

So I sulk, curled up in a pathetic ball in the one place in the house that is, according to my repeated measurement, the most distant from the bathroom. It just so happens that this place is in the corner of the living room underneath the roll top desk, making it appear as though I may actually harbor some illusion that Biggs will not be able to find me; that I can escape my fate. I harbor no such illusion. Biggs knows exactly where I am and my fate is inexorable.

That’s why they call it fate.

Biggs disappears down the hallway to the bathroom dialing his cell phone with his stupid opposable thumb. The house begins to fill with the sound of running water. When he reemerges, Biggs is leaving another message for Jimmy Dolan.

“Jimmy. Biggs. So I call and I call and I’m gettin’ back nothing but silence. Where’s the love, man? Call me.”

Biggs ends the call and stuffs the phone in his pocket. He comes into the living room and stands in front of the desk. Now I can’t see anything above his shins.

“Okay, Henry. Let’s go. Dirty dog walking.”

Cute. I pretend I can’t hear him.

“Come on. I know you’re under there. Don’t make me get the vacuum cleaner involved in this.”

Resigned, I slink out from beneath the desk and he scoops me up in one arm.

“Cheer up,” he says. “This will be over before you know it.”

I roll my eyes at what had to be Henry VIII’s favorite line. As we walk to the linoleum torture chamber, what I want to ask him is why he is letting Lucia Samuel, a completely non-odiferous woman he doesn’t even know, tell him what to do. I mean, who the hell is she? I wonder if this is how Paul, George and Ringo felt when Yoko showed up.

Of course, the analogy is not air-tight. I suspect that no one has ever accused Yoko, or John, or Ringo or George or even Paul for that matter, of being non-odiferous. And I’ll bet that even in her most intimate moments with John Lennon, Yoko’s eyes did not flicker, like gold metal glinting in the sun, as Lucia Samuel’s eyes had done tonight when she had leaned in to talk to Biggs on the park bench. And while breaking up The Beagles – Beetles. Beetles. I always get that wrong! – While breaking up The Beetles is nothing to minimize, it is not even remotely in the same universe of malfeasance as brainwashing Biggs into giving me a bath tonight.

Baths, or as I like to think of them, simulated drownings, are bad enough on any night. But my solace is that they are never more frequent than once a month. Never. And when Biggs gets busy at work, I can usually go six, even seven weeks without having to fight for my life in the porcelain waterboarding chamber. But my last simulated drowning was only nine days ago, and that’s counting today, which, the way things are going, obviously should not be counted. I have never had simulated drownings separated by only nine… eight days. Which is compelling evidence to me that Lucia Samuel is as powerful as she is evil.

So much worse than Yoko.

He carries me to the bathroom and closes the door so I can’t escape. We both know the limits of effective voice command. It will not work when I am charging after a hairless Sasquatch on a dark, snowy night and it will not work when I have any opportunity to escape a simulated drowning.

I take in the familiar surroundings. The water slowly fills the drowning pool. The mirror is fogging. I look like a ghost trying to claw his way over the shoulder of another ghost. The special drowning collar is hanging from the doorknob. Biggs slips it over my neck and lowers me into the water. It’s warm and smells like oily perfume. A short chain connects the drowning collar to the drain stopper on the faucet. Biggs hooks me to the faucet with one hand and releases my body with the other. He laughs and turns off the water. This is the part I just may hate the most; where the line between my beloved Biggs and Dick Cheney begins to blur.

I thrash and pull, like I always thrash and pull, but it is no use. 

“Henry, relax,” he says, stroking my back. “You’re going to be just fine. You’ve never died before. What makes you think you’re going to die tonight?”

I have a Cheneyesque response for him but his phone rings, causing a flurry of hand drying, standing, and fishing for the trilling thing in his pocket.

“Jimmy,” he says. “There you are. Trying to give Henry a bath. Hold on a sec.”

Biggs kneels back down by the tub, putting the phone on the orange towel next to him.

“You’re on speaker. Can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” says Jimmy Dolan. “Hang in there, Henry.”

“He’s not talking.”

“I’ll bet. So what’s up?”

“Where’ve you been, man?”

“Work has got me really jammed up. Trial in a couple of weeks.”

“Another nasty divorce?”

“Is there any other kind?”

“You’re asking the wrong guy.”

“The unrepresented soon-to-be ex-husband has a rap sheet as long as my arm. Mostly punk stuff and pushing my client around. Eighteen months for assault. He’s not taking any of this well. I’ve had to call the cops twice already.”

“Why?”

“Fucker started parking outside my house, that’s why.”

“Whoa. Are you concerned?”

“Hell no. I could take that chump. He’s just trying to rattle me. He won’t do anything now that the cops have his number.”

Biggs squeezes goop from the blue plastic bottle along my spine. I can feel it oozing down my back, its sweet pungency like a fist up my nose. I yank with everything I have against the chain, thrashing left then right. Biggs starts to massage the goop into my hair.

“Henry. Sit. Still.”

“So what’s up with you? You talk to whatshername? Lucia?”

“I did. Henry, damn it.”

“And?”

“I decided I don’t need to talk to Congressman Clifford until after I’ve read all the journals and come to some conclusions about whether I can really write the memoir they want me to write.”

Fake memoir.”

“Right.”

“And by journals, you mean the journals that this woman, who you do not know from Eve, is giving to you.”

“Yes.”

“And that Thomas Clifford may or may not have written or know anything about.”

“He wrote them. He knows.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know?

“I just do. I trust her.”

“And is she going to sign a contract?”

“Don’t need one.”

“That’s crazy Biggs. That’s…”

“I know. You’re a lawyer. You don’t do anything without a contract. But get this: they’re willing to give me all net proceeds from the sale. All of them.”

“Bullshit.”

“Serious. A hundred percent.”

“On a book like this? Without a contract?”

“Jimmy, I already have a hundred grand in the bank. Without a contract.”

“Man… this all stinks to high heaven. You need to watch yourself, Biggs.”

“Look who’s talkin’. I don’t have angry ex-cons parking outside of my house.”

Biggs works the goop into my scalp. I feel like I’m suffocating in its stench. I resent his divided attention both because it is slowing him down and thus prolonging my torture, and because there should be something fundamentally incompatible between torturing a member of your own family and socializing with your friends.

“I got the second journal tonight,” he tells Jimmy.

“And is it just as… I don’t know whether to say creative or insane.

“Creative. He’s just… writing fiction.”

“Biggs, he’s a United States Congressman, not Stephen King. He’s supposed to spend all of his time filibustering…”

“He’s a member of the House, dude. Senators filibuster.”

“Fine. He’s supposed to spend all of his time grid-locking and demonizing National Public Radio, not writing fake journals about… about… vampire staffers.”

“Oh, it’s getting better. It’s not just staffers.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve barely started the second journal but I did some spot reading in my garage…”

“Your garage.”

“I couldn’t get out of my car. I just wanted to keep reading. You know, for a politician he’s not a bad writer. It’s a pretty good story.”

“So who besides staffers?”

“Well, I came upon this part in which I think he is supposedly remembering his first actual encounter. The first time he actually sees something in person to make him think something… vampiric is going on.”

“What’s he see?”

“Shortly after the 2008 election, so maybe Spring 2009, Thomas Clifford is in the Rayburn House Office Building. He’s working very late on a draft of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, which Clifford was co-sponsoring with Elton Gallegly, a fellow California Republican. It was all about setting up a commission whose mission was to find things in the country to name after the Gipper.”

Biggs has stopped massaging. As I stand up to my chest in this disgusting water, dripping with the suds of pungent greenish goop, he is gesticulating with his hands in the airspace above me, which is a complete mystery to me because I’m not sure what added meaning his gestures or hand signals can provide in a telephone discussion about the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act.

I am reaching the point at which anger eclipses terror. I shake my hide.

Vigorously.

“Henry! Damn it!”

“You get the shake?”

“Yes.”

“Atta boy, Henry,” says Jimmy.

“Don’t encourage him. Hold on.”

Biggs opens the drain and runs the water, pulling and pushing various parts of my body into the stream. He talks louder to hear himself over the water.

“So according to the journal, Clifford leaves his office and walks upstairs and down the hall to Elton Gallegly’s office. The door is closed, but unlocked. He pushes it open only to find the office empty with the lights off. He concludes that since it is past one in the morning, Elton had decided to go home but had neglected to tell Clifford. So Clifford turns to leave but then thinks he hears something from… I’m not really sure of the physical layout but I think these are like three room office suites, so he hears something from an adjoining office. He walks over to the door of this internal office and he is about to knock but notices – Henry, just be still. Please – he notices that the door is not closed all the way and so he puts his face right up to the crack so he can see inside.”

Biggs grabs one of the orange towels and drops it over my back, blotting me dry.

“And so inside the office is a desk and a round conference table. And at the conference table… well, laying on top of the conference table is a woman Clifford recognizes as a staffer and she is mostly naked. She’s sucking on the neck of a man, also mostly naked, who is bent over her and appears to be drinking from her wrist. A second man, fully clothed in an expensive black suit is on the other side of the table doing the same thing to her ankle.”

“Your basic vampire orgy.”

“Right. Everyone has beautiful bodies and bloody lips. Nothing you haven’t see a thousand times.”

“So far, your closet fiction writer congressman is not getting any points for originality.”

“Jimmy, the whole genre has been sucked dry. So to speak. I’m not sure original vampires are even possible any more. Originality these days comes with vampires who glitter in the daylight. I’m not sure what’s left after that. Vampires who hate the taste of blood?”

“So I assume our hero gets the hell out of dodge.”

“Yeah, but not undetected. Just as he’s backing up, the woman opens her eyes and looks over the bowed head of the guy working on her wrist. Clifford writes that he saw something like a flash or a glint of something metal in her eyes. He says that there was no way she could not have seen him but that she showed no sign of acknowledgement. Like she was in some kind of trance. He backs out the office and runs back to his own office.”

“Freaked out.”

“Yeah. Terrified.”

“So who were the guys if not staffers?”

“He, well, he meaning Clifford’s fictional alter ego, didn’t have any idea at the time. He didn’t recognize either one of them. But later he’s attending a hearing as a member of the Consumer Credit Subcommittee and after the hearing breaks up he sees one of the men in a conversation with Patrick McHenry.”

“Who’s that?”

“Republican. North Carolina.”

“Oh. Right.”

Biggs lifts me out of the tub and begins toweling me off. I smell disgusting, but at least I’m alive. I try to wriggle out of the towel for the door, but he won’t let me. I stop squirming. The door is closed and I have nowhere to go.

“Right, anyway, Congressman Clifford sees this guy – this supposed vampire – in the hallway talking to McHenry and starts asking around. Turns out he’s a lobbyist for a hedge fund investment firm called Harbinger Capital.”

“Hmm. What about the other guy?”

“Clifford sees him a month later at an Americans for Prosperity Tea Party fundraiser.”

“And?”

“He’s a lobbyist for Bain Capital.”

“So these well-to-do vampires are both in a three-way with a congressional staffer.”

“Right. So now we’ve got congressional staffers and lobbyists for the financial services sector.”

“Here’s what I don’t get, Biggs.”

“What.”

“He’s using real names in these journals. McHenry. Harbinger. Bain.”

“Yeah. And staffers. Tisha Phelps and Tyler Stevens and I don’t know the woman on the table yet. So what?”

“So does Clifford think that these people are going to sit by and watch a United States Congressman publish a book in which they are depicted as undead, blood-sucking vampires? Why would they do that? Why would he do that? If it’s all fiction, why not just make up some names?”

“Maybe they’re all cool with it.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. You want to risk the defamation lawsuits?”

“Hey, I’m just the ghost-writer.”

“Taking a hundred percent of the proceeds? Doesn’t that concern you just a little?”

Biggs stops drying and stares into space, pondering the question. He lets me go and I make a beeline for the door, propping myself up and pushing on it with my front paws.

“Yeah. I guess it does. A little. If I actually write this thing I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. And the undead.”

“And if Thomas Clifford and Lucia Samuel insist on using the real names?”

“Then I’ll insist right back.”

“Yeah, right. So far you’ve been a model of hard bargaining. Are you going to give me copies of these journals, Biggs? Just for safekeeping?”

Biggs stands and opens the door to the bathroom.

I am free! I am alive! I have survived!

I race up and down the hallway six times, detouring to race upstairs and run several laps around the bedroom. I spin out on top of the bed and stop. I dig wildly at the blue down comforter, pulling it into wave-like lumps because it is just far too placid for my mood. I stop. Pant. Listen.

I am fucking alive!

I am off the bed and charging down the stairs back along the hallway with the idea of burning off some of this exuberant joie de vie in a double-loop pattern through the kitchen and the living room.

The cold air hits me in the face as soon as I round the corner. I skid to a halt.

The front door is wide open.

Out by the curb, the same white ConEd van I have seen before is just pulling away, accelerating down the street.

I do not indulge the luxury of weighing risk or pondering consequences. It is white-hot instinct that controls me now.

I put my head down, dig in my claws, and I run.

 

 

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