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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Multiverse, Knox: Part III

A short story

by Jack Mauro

Last Week: The greater Dunn arrived to bury the lesser, and saw the future; Lucius tasted liberty and Knoxville tasted "Luscious;" and Miss Bascombe started to burn.

The same afternoon. No breeze. When the sun sets, it will be as the little light going off with the closing of the oven door.

Lucius T. vacates the guest, or victim, chair opposite the loan officer's desk. He struts out of the AmSouth bank, not because his loan is secured, but because he is Lucius. In kindergarten, Lucius would strut to nap time.

Best Carmichael now watches Brice Lawhorn Sr. cut a sinister path around the mezzanine railing; he has reason to presume its object will be himself, and its purpose the sinking of Lawhorn teeth into Carmichael flesh. Yet Best is composed. Best is serene. We may have nothing sharp at all in our pockets and still be armed. We may wear light wool and be as shielded as the tortoise in his carapace. If more evil folk knew of the attractive weaponry of right, we might see fewer skulls and crossbones.

"The...gentleman came for a loan?"

"Indeed he did, Brice." Looking at Lawhorn, Best sees in the flaps of his face a distortion of his son, of Junior. Two Lawhorns, a brace of Brice.

"He seemed to leave...pleased. You found sufficient cause to advance the loan?"

"Indeed I did, Brice." Oh, but Best is enjoying himself. He likes very much the evident distaste Lawhorn has for being so familiarly addressed by a subordinate. But that is the way of modern corporate life, and the price a Brice must pay for pretensions to humanity.

"I'd like to see the work-up on this."

I'd like to see you and your spawn drink from the same bottle of lye, thinks Best.

"I'll have it on your desk tomorrow. Brice." Best smiles warmly, wondering how on earth he can translate into fiscal rationale a simple desire to thwart a son-of-a-bitch.

The men part company, hands still on holsters. Wise, Mr. Lawhorn, to retire to your office and seclude yourself. Somehow this underling has, or thinks he has, power over you. This is unpleasant, but hardly conclusive. Worse, Mr. Lawhorn, is yet to come.

The vocation of some men is so strong within them that it knows no rest. Even under the most non-vocational circumstances. So it is that Baron Dunn, genuinely broken by his brother's death, disconsolate and deep in the regret, which is always the legacy of the surviving, drives through Knoxville with one eye teary, and one eye watchful for commercial opportunity. Weaver birds do not pass up straw, even in the throes of bird grief.

His rented car cruises through the draining heat. He comes to the stretch of Cumberland Avenue staked out by those tradespeople who ostensibly feed on the young, but in reality deploy their cutlery on far meatier fare, the parents. The campus stretch. Stores here boast inventories containing everything the savvy student could possibly require. Which would appear to be a great deal of beer, a few books, gas, and beer.

Baron Dunn sniffs at a sign proclaiming pita-wrapped edibles. Pita nearly crippled the first of the Dunn's Buns, and is wicked. He passes it scornfully, only to stop short at the corner of 12th Street. Something is going on in a tiny building he can't quite make out. His antennae shoot up like bayonets. He eventually parks illegally—what is a ticket, when a fourth Dunn-something is in the air?—and investigates.

It is not difficult to cut through the clusters of UT students; the summer miasma dulls even their youthful territoriality. And Dunn is not, as they sleepily surmise, out to jump line. He slices through a gaggle of six girls and looks at the target of all this perversely inert activity. He darts around and back to one corner, then to another, to look again. Dunn gears are turning. His instincts are screaming. For Dunn sees here what he has seen before, elsewhere: a little business spanking new, a little business out of place, a little business that, transplanted to a Dunn pot and tended by green Dunn thumbs, could blossom to prehistorically green proportions.

What he has in fact seen, and what Knoxville's matriculated youth moistly crowds around, is Luscious. And Luscious is nothing more than a walled-in stand, rather shabby and perpetually in danger of toppling under the burden of the massive pink neon sign declaring its presence in garish curves. And behind the abbreviated counter of the stand are nothing but barrels of what looks to be pink lemonade, a rosy girl with a ladle, an incessantly chiming cash register, and a middle-aged black man of no small charm. Grinning broadly.

"You just hold on now, my young friends," Dunn hears him say. "There's plenty. Plenty." Then, to his assistant: "C'mon now, Dip Dip!"

Dunn is not alone in thinking this a repeated command to the pink-cheeked girl.

The day folds shut. Brice Lawhorn Sr. painfully lowers his crocodile-shod feet from their mahogany perch in his office, and switches off the obligatory brass banker's lamp on the desk.

The telephone rings.

"Would this be Brice Lawhorn?" The voice is female, strong, and throaty.

"It is." As though the glory could be found anywhere but.

"We must talk, Mr. Lawhorn."

Brice is aware of the voice's triggering within him a state of arousal, even as he knows that he is not to be so peremptorily spoken to, and that his next sentence must convey the slight to his esteem.

"That may be. But day is concluded." Well done, he thinks. Establish control, but leave the door ajar for anything not business.

Then the female voice surges in strength and kicks Brice's control between its metaphorical legs. "To hell, man, with your business."

Lust breaks out in small beads on Lawhorn's noble forehead. Then Darya Bascombe says, "Your son killed a man."

The lust evanesces. Junior. Again. Brice does not, however, immediately connect this accusation with the accident of three days prior. After all, with Junior, all sorts of things are possible.

Next: Educational, as Dip Dip learns Italian; alchemic, as pink turns to gold; spiritual, as Miss Bascombe claws a road to salvation; and recreational, as Junior gets stoned.

Jack Mauro's book Gay Street is available locally at B. Dalton in West Town Mall, Barnes & Noble and online through Mauro will release Spite Hall, which is also set in Knoxville, in September.

July 12, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 28
© 2001 Metro Pulse