Bad Monkey

Danny plugged away, went to work and did all the usual crap.  The Lakers had won a big game that night and he'd had to make a big deal about it, his eyes got all wide for the camera as he described the game-winning shot in minutest detail.  He always felt like going to the bathroom and sticking his finger down his throat whenever he had to do that.  Who fucking cared who won the fucking game.  A bunch of balls flying around.  He was in a foul mood when he went home.  His wife told him he was late and he told her to mind her own business.  He went right back out again and got drunk at the bar, the usual place over in Glendale where everyone kissed his ass.  The kids were causing trouble, one of them wanted to drop out of soccer.  They could mind their own business too.

The seed was growing in his head.  Things weren't the same as before, you didn't have to play nice anymore, you just played it loose, off the cuff.  Any trouble and you could ad-lib.  Bullshit was the new currency.  He'd already had that in spades, so he figured he was ahead of the game.  They said sports teams often took on the character of their coach; welp, there was a new sheriff in town.

He set himself loose, determined to play around with it a little.  On Tuesday, he went to play racquetball with Jim over at the club and then went to lunch by himself at Chalcedony, the expensive place near the studio, the one with the big wall of plate glass windows.  The waitress was slim and pert and sort of bubbleheaded; she looked like she would make a good guinea pig.  The food came out and he immediately sent it back, saying that it was cold.  The girl rushed off to accommodate him, scurrying like a mouse and rushing back with a piping hot dish to put in the offender's place.  At the end of the meal, he got up and walked out without leaving a tip.  It felt good.  Why hand her more money?  For that matter, why even pay the bill at all?  If pressed, he could just say that he'd left the money on the table and then it had disappeared afterwards.  But he wasn't feeling that bold yet.  Next time, maybe.

On the way back, he rolled through a stop sign or two, blew a red light.  Nothing happened, although a guy in a Suburban leaned on his horn and had to swerve a bit at one point.  He went home and watched TV all afternoon.  His wife came home around seven, she'd been out shopping all day.

"I'm too tired tonight, let's get pizza," she said as she breezed past the den on the way to the kitchen.

"I'm not eating.  I'm going out tonight with Jim and Marty," he said absentmindedly.  He could feel hands going on hips behind him, see the outraged grimace without turning around.

"Well - were you planning on telling me?" his wife demanded, with a little stomp of the foot.

"I told you last night," Danny countered.  It was a lie, he hadn't said anything.

"No you did not."

"Yes I did."

In the end, he went out.  What could she do?  Bitch at him some more?  She was going to do that anyway.  Again, it felt pretty good.  Danny felt like he'd turned a new corner in his life.  It was a brand new day.  Throw shit at the wall and see what stuck.  And most of the time, it stuck.  Put on a suit, throw some cologne on, flash some cash around and you could pretty well do as you pleased.  The world was made for guys like him, it was all there for the taking.

The months passed, a year passed, two years.  Danny followed the Leader, watching every headline, eager to see what he'd do next.  The man was a dynamo of discord, a maestro of mayhem, parading around like a little blue-suited Emperor, blowing shit up as he went.  Nothing was off limits, nothing too absurd or extreme.  The poor were responsible for everything: point the fingers at them, they were the ones to blame.  The news was all fake, no one in the world could be trusted.  There was only one station that spoke the Truth and it was the one his buddies controlled.  Dissenting voices were demonized, fatwas issued.  The threats became ever more violent and explicit.  He went after the little guys, the ones who couldn't fend for themselves; he pitted one side against the other, the old divide and conquer, straight out of the tried and true playbook, the dictator's manual.  But his favorite thing in the world, above all else, was to accuse the other side of whatever it was he was doing himself.  He'd pull some crazy shit right in front of everyone and then just deny it, like a little child.  They even had a new term for it now, it was called 'gaslighting'.  You did something right there in broad daylight, no matter how many people were watching, and then just claimed it never happened.  You attacked someone and said it was your victim's fault.  You said that day was night, then dared them to prove that the sun was out.  It was a reinvention of reality, an entirely new mode of existence, Hypocrisy as High Art, Narcissism as applied science, the reformation of time and space through sheer force of will.  If science didn't fit your agenda, then it was out.  If fact was inconvenient then it simply became fiction.  If reality didn't exist, then you could sweep into the vacuum and create an alternative one in its absence, any old one you chose.  You just got on your little megaphone and declared it so, and it was so.  The filters kicked in, the censors were ready, the pumps were primed, you'd paid off the pundits and bribed the shills, it was all set up, everything was in place.  All you had to do was dump on the darkies every now and then and the rest was gravy.  It was a stroke of genius, the greatest thing since Genesis and the advent of light.  Stalin was in a swoon, Lucifer himself had never dared dream it possible.

The hillbillies and hicks in particular had fallen under his spell.  He was their savior, their guiding star, they hung on his every word, they offered up their babies as sacrifice.  The man was a Yankee, born and bred, he was a New York asshole who was as far from the farm as Pluto was from Mercury.  He was the one they were supposed to hate the most, and yet there they all were, lining up to eat from his hand like horses at a trough.  It seemed they would follow anyone who appeared as mean and stupid as they were, that was pretty much all it took.  Their fearless fuhrer would hurl some insult, some new piece of filth into the air, and they would roar their approval, he'd flash the salute and they'd give it right back.  The hinterlands were a roiling mess of hatred and confusion.  Then again, they always had been.  The country bumpkins were all riled up, it was pitchforks and torches time - it didn't matter who was right and wrong, they were having their way for once and that was good enough, they were going to throw it in everyone's face even if it meant the world had to burn.  The noses were off and the faces were being spited.

This all worked fine for Danny.  He followed along, munching his popcorn, eyes glued to the set, it was right up his alley, it played right into his hands.  He'd been waiting his whole life long to get a leg up on the bastards, and finally this was his chance.  He'd never been as smart as the others but he could be just as devious as the next guy.  If it was back to the jungle, then so be it - he'd channel his inner animal and beat his chest and howl along with the rest of them, monkey around for a while, swing in the trees and screw the lady apes and run off with all the bananas he could find.

This gaslighting thing sounded interesting, it intrigued him.  He figured he'd try it out on his wife, to see if it actually worked.  They were lying in bed that night watching television, it was eleven o' clock and time to switch over to the news.

"Where's the remote?" his wife asked.  Danny saw his chance.

"I just gave it to you," he said.

"You did not."

"Yes I did."

She spun on him incredulously.  "No, you most certainly did not."

His eyes were defiantly calm and his voice was level as he returned her gaze.  "I just put it in your hand.  Not two seconds ago."

His wife's mouth opened soundlessly, then closed again.  Danny eyes stayed fixed on hers as he waited, observing the result with clinical detachment; for just the slightest of moments he saw a flicker of indecision, something rarely seen with her.  She sputtered briefly, fought with herself for a time over what to say next, then rolled over and went to sleep.

Danny declared the experiment a mixed success.  Granted, his wife was a tough nut to crack, and she had too much bitch in her to roll over completely for anyone.  But that momentary hesitation had been what he was looking for.  He had her on the ropes there for a second, he knew he had.  This shit was going to work miracles on some of the other poor sods he knew.  Danny felt like he'd just discovered a new secret weapon.  The world would be his before the year was out.

Next, he tried it out at work.  One of the news anchors had a parking spot in the garage that was much closer to the elevator than his was, and it had always pissed him off.  One morning he parked in it.  The news anchor knew what Danny's car looked like.  He came over to confront him.

"Danny, man, I think you're parked in my spot," he said.  The two of them had never exactly seen eye to eye, and he looked like he expected trouble.

"No I didn't.  That's not my car," Danny said, barely looking up from the drinking fountain as he slurped water.

"Look, I know damn well what your car looks like.  Will you please just not park there anymore?"

"I told you, it's not my car."

Again, there was the disbelieving silence.  "Dude - I know your license plate number, I've seen it like a million times."

"Then you better get your eyes checked, because I'm telling you I didn't park in your goddamn spot."

The guy stormed off in a huff.  This was just too much fun, Danny couldn't believe he'd never done it before.

He started lying more and more often, for no reason, just to see if he could get away with it.  It seemed no matter how outrageous the lie, he always seemed to get what he wanted in the end.  He lied to his wife, his boss, to anyone who'd listen; he jockeyed for position and fought over every scrap.  He'd stay in the shower an extra twenty minutes and use up all the hot water, he'd grab the last of the ice cream at night, before anyone else could get to it.  The instant gratification was addicting.  Each time he pushed a boundary, it stuck, and he wound up with a little more territory than before.  He'd gotten a real taste of it now, there was no reason to ever go back to the old way.  The new and improved Danny was here to stay.  Retreat was no longer an option.

Appetite whetted, he now moved on to bigger and better things.  He went to lunch on Friday and this time he did it, he walked out without paying the bill.  No one came after him, there were no phone calls, nothing happened.  Tax season rolled around and he didn't pay them either.  It was all just too easy.  Hell, maybe he'd run for office someday, it sure looked like fun pushing people around like that all day long.  The higher the mountaintop, the farther you got to watch them fall.  He walked around town with some strange ideas in his head.  What if I pushed that woman in front of the bus right now, what would happen to me?  No, there were people around, eyewitnesses who'd squeal.  He wasn't quite at the Fifth Avenue level yet.  But the horizons were almost limitless - Pandora's box had been opened, the treasure chests were unlocked and the coffers were being raided.  Danny was high on the thrill of conquest, drunk on the possibilities.  The Great Leader had shown them all the light.  He was a great man, a deep thinker, a fucking stable genius in fact.  Give the bastard another four terms, if he knew what he was doing, make him King for life, why not.  Keep the gravy train running, let the good times roll, get your own stack, jack.  It only went to show - all you had to do was get with the program a little and you could be just as happy as a pig in shit.  Danny didn't know why everyone had to stir up so much trouble, this was just the way the world worked.  He really didn't care, did you?

An idea had been formulating in his mind for some time, a gestating plot, a way to make some real money.  Sven's new script was good.  It was damn good.  It was going to make the grade, only a matter of time before he found the right buyer.  Sven was also a degenerate drunk, who couldn't keep his head screwed on straight with a vice grip and a thousand pounds of duct tape.  Were the script to go missing, he probably wouldn't even notice - and even if he did, he wouldn't have the first clue as to what to do about it.  Danny would just swipe the script and make it his own.  It was child's play with this guy, it would be like taking candy from a baby: Danny had been playing him like a fiddle for years, no reason for it to go any differently this time.

The getting of it was no problem at all.  Danny took Sven out for drinks and within an hour or two had him hopelessly plastered.  Danny drove them back to the apartment, deposited Sven's drooping form into bed and then went poking around.  He went into the kitchen where he'd seen it last, and there it was, back in the drawer, the one right next to the refrigerator.  What kind of a schmuck kept his most prized possession in a kitchen drawer next to the fridge.  Danny stuck the script in the inside pocket of his coat, went outside closing the door behind him, got back in the car and drove home.  His wife was already in bed when he got there.  He poured himself a Scotch, went into the den and threw himself down on the couch to review the purloined manuscript.  'That's the Ticket' was what it was called.  Danny read for awhile.  Goddamn if Sven hadn't hit it out of the park with this one, it was absolute dynamite.  He'd have to change the title and a few of the details just to avoid being too obvious, but once that was done, this thing was going to sell itself.  He wondered how much he could get for it, he'd have to start asking around.

The next morning, he got the call.

"Where the fuck is my script, you stupid little weasel?" Sven was screaming into the receiver.

"Calm down Sven," Danny said, reaching for a glass of water.  "You were drunk last night, you probably took it out after I left and lost it behind the couch or something.  Just take it easy and look around, I'm sure it'll turn up eventually."

The bullshit flowed so easily now, it had become almost second nature.

"No!  NO!!  I woke up in the morning and then I got up and went in the kitchen to get it, and it wasn't there.  The only place it could have gone was home with you.  What do you think you're going to do with it, you little cocksucker?  Think you're gonna sell it, pawn it off as your own?  What a fucking joke, as if anyone would ever believe you could write something like that!  You can't even read a baseball score off a prompter without fumbling all over the place!!  I'm gonna get my lawyer and we're gonna have a field day with this.  When we're through with you - "

Danny had heard enough, he hung up the phone.  Lawyer my ass, Sven didn't even have a barber.

Time passed.  The months went by in an indulgent dream.  Danny went to work, stiffed the waiters at lunch, came home at night and fought with his wife.  The home team won, the home team lost, the seasons changed from one into another.  In his spare time, he worked on fixing up the script.  Admittedly, it was a lot harder than he'd thought it would be - the changes he made never seemed to improve things too much and he found himself getting hopelessly lost in the weeds.  Jesus Christ, why would anyone want to write one of these things in the first place.  Then one day, he woke up and realized that things weren't quite going to plan.  He'd heard a few days earlier that Sven had indeed secured the services of an attorney, and that a lawsuit was in the works.  Who'd a thunk it, the little rat had more backbone than he'd thought.  His wife had been telling him that she'd had enough of his shit and was threatening to leave and take the kids with her.  Then came the kicker, a letter in the mail informing him that he was being audited by the IRS.  It appeared he'd taken a few too many liberties - reporting no income whatsoever might have been taking things a step too far.  Danny wondered what he'd done wrong, what element of the formula he'd missed.  He continued following the news at night; things were business as usual with the Fuhrer, so nothing had changed there.  Maybe the racket was more involved than he'd given it credit for, maybe it required a bit more practice, a touch more finesse.  There were a few speed bumps here and there but the man always managed to wriggle out of danger, it was like water off a duck's back.  The President could damn well do what he pleased; after all, he was judge and jury.  If the real judge and jury had the nerve to object, they could just be disregarded, dismissed as out of turn.  It was all bullshit anyway, just words on a page.  It was what you said it was.  Remember the Reichstag, baby.  The mark of impunity lay upon His privileged brow, the power of absolution was in His magic pen.  All things were possible through the Law.  The news was fake if you made it so.

But for Danny, it wasn't such smooth sailing anymore.  The noose was tightening a little more every day.  He'd tried walking out on another bill over the weekend and had almost gotten the shit kicked out of him for it.  The tide had turned, the wolves were circling.  That was all right, though, it didn't really matter what they did.  In the end, he had an ace in the hole, a get out of jail free card, a deus ex machina for their dumb asses.  If push came to shove, he'd just pardon himself.  It was all the rage now.



Scott Taylor hails from Raleigh, North Carolina.  He is a writer and a musician, and an avid world traveler.  His short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous print and online publications, including Ghost City Review, Snakeskin, Oddball, Angel Rust and Swifts and Slows.  His debut novel Chasing Your Tail has recently been released with Silver Bow Publishing, and his novellas 'Freak' and 'Ernie and the Golden Egg' are slated for inclusion in an upcoming anthology with Running Wild Press.  He graduated from Cornell University and was also a computer programmer in a past life.  Scott recommends the Humane Society.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, June 3, 2024 - 21:00