The Holy Land
An hour after the beheading, after I woke up from my swoon in The Holy Land Resort and Casino's snow-white dispensary, I was thinking, for one scrotum-shriveling moment, that I'd died and gone to in some sterile, disinfectant-reeking Heaven. Thank God I hadn't. Ten minutes after this awakening, I thought maybe I'd fallen a hundred and eighty degrees in the other direction, as I sat in a straight-backed chair in the metallic-themed office of Holly Poretz, The Holy Land's DTR Director of Tyn Relations who stood at military attention behind her stainless steel desk, glaring at me.
"What in God's name," Holly growled, her cigarette voice imbued with a peculiar ursine quality, "are we going to do about this situation, Mr. Payne?"
"I don't know, Ms. Poretz," I chirped, strung tight and humming still from the Rapture-L injection the dispensary nurse had pumped into me.
Holly Poretz slammed her hands down on her metal desk top, then leaned in my direction to fix me with a steely glare. I smiled like a dope the rapture drug has that effect. Holly grimaced at my expression, then rose from her desk lean, bringing her platinum bouffant into a partial eclipse through the wall-spanning window that framed her of the Tyn mother ship, suspended a mile to the east, over the open desert. The disc, in a phase of its slow gyroscopic wobble that had its underside angled up, facing The Holy Land, appeared, in my Rapture-L soaked perspective, as a metallic halo hovering behind the Director's head.
"Lord Jesus," I murmured.
"Yessss ..." Holly hissed. Then, with more muscle, she echoed me: "Lord Jesus indeed!" biting off the syllables the way Mary had bitten off Julianne's toe. The Director drew in a deep breath and let her stiff posture relax a bit. "I've talked to Captain Slyt," she said, referring to the Tyn ship's captain.
"On holo," I asked dumbly.
Holly frowned. "Of course, on holo," she said. Her office had one of The Holy Land's first holographic communications systems. We all had them now, even me, in my humble cubicle. But the system was new enough to us underlings for it to be still a novelty. This interview could have been conducted on holo, but the seriousness of the beheading called for Holly's decision a rare meeting in the flesh.
"And let me tell you, Mr. Payne," Holly intoned, "the Captain was not a happy camper." The stress of the situation put a hard underpinning to the DTR's face. She knotted her fists atop her desk. "They are a very eye-for-an-eye race, you know."
Rapture-L or not, the thought of Toby Koenig getting his skinny butcher's ass turned over to the Tyn riding a powder-blue anti-gravity ray up to the big disc in the sky and having his head removed this withered me right down in my bowels. I gulped like a cartoon guy, making that goofy "glurk" noise that bobbled my Adam's apple. My eyes bulged. I licked my lips then sucked in a deep breath and Holly Poretz, Director of Tyn Relations, wound tight, watched me. And I witnessed in her a minor miracle, as a flicker of amusement at my Rapture-L enhanced distress played with the corner of her mouth. Her eyes took on a shine; she pinched her lips tight in an effort of suppression, and lost, snorting, spraying out a mist of watery snot as one hand shot to her nose to stanch the flow, and the other snaked back and slipped beneath the desk top to hit the button that killed the recording system a privilege of a rare few in the Holy Land's top management.
And I could feel it in my marrow, that fucking system blinking out, like God going to sleep on us. And in the absence of the electronic omniscient eye, Holly Poretz exploded into gut-deep laughter, all the metal stiffness melted out of her; and I was struck anew like a hit by a bolt from the Heavens by what a beautiful, desirable woman she was, when the weight of the job was off her.
Her outburst snapped my drug-fuzzed stress mode. A contagious thing was her merriment, even if it was at my expense. I joined in; we did a duet. What an uplifting sound it must have been. I (almost) wished it had been recorded for posterity.
Holly had slumped onto her desk atop her forearms, her head touching metal, to laugh herself out. I'd melted into the chair. After thirty unrestrained seconds, she regaining a modicum of her composure, straightening with a gasp, beaming, bringing, once again, her head into an eclipse of the Tyn ship, a configuration now making that halo in the particular phase of its wobble appear a rakishly angled bit of beatific headwear.
I bounced from the chair, arms outstretched, and moved to embrace the Director across the desk top. She met me halfway. Our cheeks brushed. I drank in the aroma of her sweet, tinny perfume. She kissed my neck, and I let my hands slide down her ribs before I moved them forward to brush the points of a pair of fine breasts that had been lifted into perky cones by a state-of-the-art anti-gravitation brassiere. She huffed, a hard, sharp outburst, and pulled away from me to run her hands down her torso to cleanse away, it seemed, a rare human touch.
It was like old times, that hug: Holly and I were an item five years back, when she was interning in HRO, and I roasted like a
Holly molded her face back into its professional mask. "It's iffy," she said.
"Iffy?" I repeated.
"The outcome of our negotiation."
The muscles in Holly's face wavered, like a piece of sheet metal hit by hammer. "Your butcher, Mr. Koenig I think he'll beat the beheading," she said in a hushed tone, eyes staring off over my shoulder.
"You've talked with legal?" I asked, hearing tremor in my voice. The Holy Land employs a half a dozen lawyers; we all, in management, seek their, advice, often.
"Of course," she said, a professional clip coming back into her cadence, the slackness stiffening out of her face. The second she'd said it, her fax machine twittered, and a gold-embossed sheet of Holy Land stationary hummed out of its slot to the accompaniment of an synthesized rendition of "Amazing Grace." "But I don't think I have to tell you about the potential strain in Human/Tyn relations this could have caused, if not handled with a certain ... tact." She said this with the pride of a person possessed of that necessary quality.
Holly plucked the paper up from the fax tray, read it and said to me: "It looks like I was successful in my negotiations, Mr. Payne." She'd gone pro on me again. Her hand must have sneaked back down to the recording system button without my noticing the move. I could feel "God" again, lurking everywhere. "It seems my negotiations were successful. Mr. Koenig won't be charged with murder or beaded himself, as Captain Slyt had originally requested. I nodded, acknowledging the inevitable with regret. Toby Koenig was a first-rate butcher. "He is, of course," Holly continued, "terminated."
I blew out a gust of breath.
"And you, Mr. Payne as Mr. Koenig's first line supervisor at The Loaves and Fishes Buffet are, as of this minute, on a two-week suspension."
"What!? I blurted.
Her hand moved. God blinked out again.
"What the fuck!?" I said anew, rising from the chair.
Holly pounded her fist on her desk top, quivered, then barked, "Just shut the fuck up and take it like a man, Neil. Consider it a little vacation." She closed her eyes and shuddered, then, opened up again and said in a softer tone: "It could have been worse, love; those God damned bugs wanted your head, too."
Published September 2007