02 July 2010

"Scene from a Buddy Movie"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Where is he?" asks the man holding a gun to my head.

Normally, I'd be happy about someone asking me questions. It's my job. I can tell you anything you want to know—for the right price.

And that's the problem here. I get paid for my work, and I'm worth every penny, if I do say so myself. When you demand something for nothing—when you make it personal—that's trouble.

"Put the gun down," I say, "and let's talk."

The barrel digs into my left temple. "You've got ten seconds to tell me where he is, or I blow your brains out."

"I don't work for free," I say. "Now, my usual rate is—"

"Are you stupid?" the man shouts into my ear, and tightens his right arm around my neck. "I'm going to kill you if you don't tell me where he is!"

"No, you're not."

"Five seconds!"

I close my eyes and concentrate for a moment. Judging from the odor and how strongly I can feel his breath on the back of my neck, the man's head is less than six inches away from mine.

I skim the surface of his mind, plucking the strongest emotional crests from an ocean of thoughts. Not enough to give myself a headache, just enough to unsettle him.

Then I start singing.

"Whe-e-e-e-ere is love? Does it fall from skies above...?"

I've never heard the song before, but the melody is loud and clear in the man's head. I continue singing. His left hand starts shaking. His right arm relaxes the tiniest bit, and I make my move.

My left elbow comes up, fast and hard, slamming into his gun hand. At the same time, I reach my right arm backward and grab his jacket collar. I bend my knees and tip forward, yanking hard and flipping him over.

He lands with a thud on the carpet. Meanwhile, I've grabbed his left wrist and held on to it. He yowls in pain as I twist it even more, then pull the weapon out of his loosened grip.

"You should know better," I say.

The man glares at me. "I saw you with him," he says. "I saw him paying you."

"Two weeks ago," I say. "An unrelated matter."

"How can you do business with someone like that?" he barks. "A murderer, a kidnapper—"

"So you've never taken money from a criminal?" I say. "You always turn down a client if you suspect he's mobbed up? You only take payment by certified check?"

"So it's true," he says. "You are a mind-reader."

"Well, yes," I say. "But I didn't get any of that from reading you. I just noticed a car staking out my building, got your license plate number, hacked into DMV records, then asked around about you."

He laughs. "It's more impressive if you say you're a psychic."

"I wouldn't lie to you," I say, extending a hand. "Professional courtesy."

He takes my hand and stands up. "I need your help."

I nod. "Clearly."


Photo: old photograph at McMenamins Kennedy School, June, 2009