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Drawing a BlankPortrait of a Smokin' Serial Killer
By R.K. Finch
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 R. K. Finch
All right reserved.
Chapter One1. The elephants are going mad.
All across Africa they have been killing human beings, killing other animals, in an increasingly violent way for the past ten or so years. Running into towns spearing humans on their tusks. Raping and killing rhinoceros. Murdering each other.
Being the sensitive creatures they are, with their long, long memories, elephant society is very highly developed. They carry out rituals and mourn their dead, revisiting the bones of their ancestors and caressing them with their trunks for years afterwards in a similar way to how they wrap their trunks around each other in greeting. Young elephants are raised in a complex group made up of the females in their communities. Young males are kept in line during their formative years by elder bulls. They have an extensive communication system, visual signals and patterns of subsonic vibrations, which further bond them to each other.
But years of poaching and habitat loss have caused the herds to dwindle. The support systems are no longer there; the young are often raising themselves. They realize what all large mammals have known for some time — they are dying out, they will not survive for too much longer. Kept in parks and ranges, controlled by others, their very society is breaking down.
And they're mad as hell about it.
I am on my way to a lawyer's office I have never been to before, to pick up something left to me by a man I was involved with who recently died and remembered me in his will. I am not expecting anything. I'm not terribly concerned, either, whether or not he is living or dead, which in itself is a lenient statement, and perhaps because of that I should feel as though I should not receive whatever it is he left me. But I don't feel that way; I feel largely indifferent at most.
I am in a good mood, actually, as I walk down King Street in a flattering, short business outfit, showing a lot of leg, flexed and tawny, swaying to the rhythm incited by my 3-inch Louis Vuitton heels. Men are doing double takes, women are regarding me with envy and I am suffering the same tingly thrill I used to get when I was thirteen and walking down Lexington Avenue in Kitchener. This is the shit I live for. Everything else I do is just to get me in a place where I feel like this. Hot. It's so much better than Happy.
I put out my cigarette with a sensual twist of my ankle and go in the building indicated by the address on the letter I received from the lawyer. I estimate it will only be a short meeting, under an hour, but I pat my purse to ensure I've slipped in a supply of nicotine gum, just in case. I never go more than thirty minutes between cigarettes. People always comment on how good I smell despite such a nasty habit. I can't really say why the smell doesn't stick to me. Maybe it's because I'm a hygienic person.
I re-emerge from the lawyer's office one hour later, spit out my gum and light a cigarette. If I were a normal person, I'd be shaking at the very least, maybe even heading north on the subway and taking a jaunt over to the Bloor Street viaduct, where I could hurl myself off of the suicide bridge. Paul has left me everything. His big glass penthouse, his car, seats on the boards of his four companies and millions of dollars in cash and investments. Everything.
There was also a very touching letter to me, long, about how his relationship with me had been the most important and long-lasting of any in his life, that I'd taught him so much, shown him so much, had been, in fact, the only woman he'd ever loved. He was sorry for all of the pain he had caused me over the years and was overjoyed that I had contacted him again early that year. And so on. You know the story.
I take the note and toss it into a recycling bin as I put out my smoke and head into the subway. I should have brought the car so I could chain-smoke. Damn.
Lately I have had the very strong urge to go away. Somewhere far. Disappear.
I've never traveled anywhere, except this very strange and pointless trip early in my career. During that trip I realized my first and possibly only real, strong fear: I'm afraid to fly. Terrified. A goopy pool of tears, tears that feel nothing but are present nonetheless, protesting the entire journey. Embarrassing. So I don't make travel plans. I'm not going anywhere. The past few years, I've barely even left the city. I don't want to go anywhere, either. Except maybe to the great outdoors, where I have also only visited most rarely. Somewhere quiet.
When I was in my early twenties, the company I worked for, Silacorp, sent me to China. It didn't make any sense from the outset. First of all, at the time, I was but a mere peon, a graphic designer, knowing nothing of the dark side of business. My Ottawa boss, Steve Alexander, king of our office but in the grand scheme of the company little more than a pencil-pushing manager himself, called me into his opulent suite one day. I had been lobbying him for a well-deserved raise for some time and had been ignored; when he called me into his suite that day I assumed it was to either reject my inquiry, or to hold it over my head and offer it only in exchange for a nice long blow job, as he had been known to do to other women in the office, women who far too often agreed to this blackmail. In my case, however, Steve had another trick up his sleeve, which was to spend a half an hour telling me how talented and indispensible I was, how far I was going to go in the company, how wealthy and respected and admired I was going to be.
I knew he was full of shit; I knew I wasn't any more talented or qualified at the time to be anything more than I was. In fact, I was pretty sure that if it weren't for the sudden onset of the Internet revolution and the lack of skilled workers in the industry, I would not even be where I was then. But I was barely out of University, sure I was going to make a mark on this world, convinced I was going to lead a different life than that which had seemed obvious to me in my teenage years and turned out to be much more accurate than the fantasies Steve imbued into my impressionable corporate mind. Steve Alexander was good at one thing: convincing people to do what he wanted, and as much as I had observed that particular trait in him I had always felt that I was above it. In this, my first and only experience in allowing someone to stroke my ego into a veritable erection that left my mind swimming with ecstatic visions of material release, Steve was again successful. Despite everything that was about to follow, I believe this is the moment that my homicidal hymen was punctured. Though Steve proved to do worse things to better people, when I think back on it now I believe this is why he ended up suffering the fate he did.
Steve said they had to send me to China to help the men in our office over there put Chinese characters into HTML pages. I didn't know how, but I looked it up, figured it out and accepted the offer, wondering only vaguely why they would send me in person to do something I could email in a very small file.
A free trip to China when you don't even know you're terrified of flying is a really great deal, so I didn't say anything. A free trip to China when you're ten miles high on the ego-trip hammered into your head about your imminent executive success can push almost everything else out of your mind.
So I went.
I landed in Hong Kong after a harrowing 14-hour flight and realized the limo that was supposed to have come to pick me up and deliver me to the Empire Hotel in Kowloon wasn't there. After wandering aimlessly and mutely around an airport so big you can see it from space, I found a car service to the hotel and took that. Luckily the car service was free. Silacorp had asked me to put all my expenses on my credit card and file them when I returned to Ottawa, but in a fit of genius I told them I did not have a credit card and that they would have to give me cash for the trip and otherwise pay for the hotel and anything else beforehand. After much wrangling, they agreed to give me $1000, most of which I had converted to Renminbi and a smattering of U.S. denominations; the rest was safely tucked away in my purse as traveller's cheques, and that was all I had. Any other expenses were dependent on arrangements made by Steve's assistant before the trip.
I arrived at the hotel to find the bill for my room had not been processed. I wheedled and argued with the clerk, but to no avail. I told them how I would be stranded in Hong Kong if they did not let me have the room, which was clearly booked for me, but for which the faxed credit card payment, from our CEO himself, John Esteban, was in my opinion intentionally unsigned. Xu Tan, a dashing man about five years older than me who managed our Hong Kong office and showed up at the counter beside me right around the time I realized I was getting nowhere, ended up paying for my room out of his own pocket. Relieved that I was not going to end up sleeping on the streets, I suggested to Xu Tan that he show me around town and we party our asses off. After seeing a great deal of the city core, alive with people and energy, we ended up in this bizarre sort of club that I could not call a karaoke bar, but where karaoke was available in small, mostly private rooms. I did a striptease for Xu Tan and another business associate and let them both lick my nipples before laughing at them and keeping them from anything else. Usually I'd finish the job, but I worked with these people and had my career to think of. Nipple-licking tends to get a man hot for you, but doesn't take him so far he's angry when you turn him away. Second base is only halfway home, either direction.
Turned out the company had not done the necessary paperwork for my temporary work visa either, causing another day's delay in Hong Kong before I could go to my real destination in Beijing, and costing Xu Tan another night's hotel bill, for which I freely admit I paid him back in kind. John Esteban, who I was positive would have returned my many messages and cleared up the payment fiasco at the Empire within the 36 hours I was in Hong Kong, was still AWOL. I finally got my visa and left for Beijing; this time flying was an even less pleasant experience. The airplane was to my mind clearly purchased from the U.S. circa 1960, judging from the upholstery. The pilot, drunk or inept, flew the plane in a disconcerting swaying motion that made me feel as though we were on the cusp of a tailspin every two to five minutes. The "entertainment" consisted of what looked like state-sanctioned tourism videos, which made me feel as though if I could understand the language I would be in danger of being indoctrinated into a cult. When we landed at the Beijing airport, it was in the middle of the tarmac, where we were ushered into the back of a large truck with a caged wagon hitched to it and ferried to the terminal. I went to the terminal entrance to look for the limo I was already sure would not be there, and it wasn't. Instead I was accosted by what seemed to be a taxi driver, who had been following me for some time and knew I was stranded. He took my bags and put them in his car, giving me no choice but to call for help or go with him. The doors were closed and locked before I noticed he didn't have a meter. An hour's drive and many fantasies about being sold to a harem later and we arrived at the Traders Hotel where I was booked. He only charged me $500 cash for the ride, too, and figuring it could have been worse and glad that I had had the wherewithal to demand Silacorp provide me with the cash needed, I did not protest, though a deep-seeded rage towards Steve Alexander for sending me on this trip to begin with had begun to grow.
It took quite some time to hunt down what name this hotel room was under, but eventually they figured it out. I finally settled in and called the room extension I had been given to meet up with my associates, Sheng and Lu Zhong. They descended upon me as though upon a saviour.
"You're here to save the project, to do the presentation in Tianjin," Lu Zhong told me. "Thank goodness!" Sheng exclaimed, because they had no idea what was going on and time was running short; the presentation was the day after next.
I told them they must have made some mistake, I was there merely to write some code for them, code I was prepared to write, but I realized quickly that they thought I was there to build the entire demonstration module. And knowing HTML, which is a fancy way of saying making the clicks work on a web page, in no way qualifies me as a programmer, which would be writing the sort of code that makes your payment work when you buy something.
To be fair, I went to the "office", really a double suite in the same hotel I was staying in, where Sheng and Lu Zhong also seemed to be living in the bedrooms, and checked out what they had. It wasn't much. It was a non-functioning demo of a previous project my company had done for another client. I thought maybe I could fake something purely in HTML if I guided the demo, but I had never made a presentation. I honestly didn't even know what the project was for; I was told something about it being an online accounting product or something. It was 1997 and e-Commerce, or buying and selling things on the Internet, was starting to take off, but it was still new, really new.
As was I. I didn't know what to do. I spent a few hours trying to do what I could, but there was too much work, the only computer I had to work on was a laptop, the only graphics program I had at my disposal was Corel PhotoPaint, a far cry from my preferred Photoshop, and it didn't matter anyway, because I didn't have a mouse, only the stupid little inaccurate nub between the "g" and the "h" on my keyboard that wouldn't obey my commands. As it neared the middle of the night and I was quickly succumbing to jet lag and utter confusion, I decided I needed to contact my company back in Canada. Chain-smoking and drinking freely from the mini-bar, I spent the next four hours on the telephone and online.
No one answered my calls, even though it was the middle of a business day there. No one answered my emails. Just like my experience the day before — was it only a day? — John Esteban and the executives in Jacksonville, Florida, the very men whose credit cards were funding my trip, would not return my calls. It slowly dawned on me that I was being used, but for what I could not fathom. I realized they had knowingly sent me to China after knowingly telling the men there I would do the demo and the presentation. But I didn't understand why.
Furthermore, that afternoon Sheng and Lu Zhong told me they had never been paid. It was November and the "office" had opened in August, and besides that the room was taken care of and they could stay there for free, everything else they did, including the equipment they were working on, had been purchased on their own dime. When I asked them incredulously why they would work that hard for a company who might never pay them, they told me it was better than most of their alternatives in communist China. I suddenly remembered a man back at my office in Ottawa who wasn't able to get reimbursed for a business-expense for over three months, and I wondered what was going on with my company and how it might pertain to me being on a suicide mission in Beijing. For the umpteenth time on this trip, I was glad I had demanded cash.
I called the airline and discovered I could not change my ticket without the permission of one of the people in Jacksonville who was refusing to call or email me back.
Finally, fed up, I sent an email to Steve Alexander, John Esteban and every other executive in my company, in every office in every country we were in, telling them I was resigning, that I was also taking my vacation immediately and that as of this moment they were holding me hostage in a foreign country and I would proceed with this understanding in my attempt to get home. I told them I was leaving the hotel in one hour to go the embassy and contact the media. Funny enough, someone, Steve's leather-tanned, bleached-blonde assistant, whose official job was to get my bosses' clothes dry-cleaned and arrange for sandwich delivery during boardroom meetings and whose unofficial job was to keep Steve sexually satisfied, called me within five minutes, after several hours of being completely ignored. I was assured that I would be booked on a flight the next morning at eleven o'clock, local time; there had apparently been some change in the project which had confused people on both sides and resulted in me being where I was.
Excerpted from Drawing a Blank by R.K. Finch Copyright © 2010 by R. K. Finch. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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