What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Desperate Student, Episode 15: Schmoozer

This continues the tragic tale of the Desperate Student. If you're not up to date, read up. Matthew, this is your chance. Start at Episode 1. Heh.

The problem with being stranded in Zimbabwe is that it's a lot like being stranded in Zimbabwe.

It doesn't get much worse than getting lost in a war-torn African country with a flimsy one million Zimbabwean currency (read: 7.81 USD), an angry world explorer on the loose, and the national police hunting for your rebel face.

Of course, I am a Desperate Student. I was undaunted by these apparent challenges. Other, less motivated people might have turned themselves in to the authorities or gone running to Jane Goodall for forgiveness. But not I. I was determined to see this through. Somehow, someway, I would get back to the states, and when I arrived I'd have enough money to treat Suzy the way she deserved to be treated.

Sticking to the shadows, I wended my way downtown in search of the American consulate. If I announced myself as a US citizen, I reasoned, they might have some sort of program to get me back to the states. It was worth a try.

I shouldn't have been surprised to find the consulate surrounded by concrete barriers, barbed wire, and machine guns. The building had a net suspended a yard from the outside wall to catch RPGs and a dozen soldiers with M16A2s were milling around outside. One of them extended his hand palm forward when I got close and I stopped instantly, overwhelmed by authority.

I felt a faint scratchiness in my throat. "I'm an American citizen," I said.

"Let's see a passport."

I stopped cold. I hadn't been issued a passport in years and certainly hadn't packed one when Jeeves had come to pick me up - was it just a few days ago? I thought fast. "Our 17th president was Martin van Buren. Independence Day is ..."

"I can't let you in without ID," The guard said.

"I lost it!"

"Then I'm glad I'm not you."

"Wait. Hang on. I have a driver's license." I reached for my back pocket and found myself looking down the business end of the guard's rifle. "Just getting my wallet," I said.

"You're in no rush."

I slowly retrieved the wallet and opened it. The guard studied for a moment. "Seems valid," He conceded.

"So do I get in?"

"No. A license isn't enough to prove you're a citizen. You might be from California."

I paused for a moment, temporarily stymied. I knew I would get into the consulate. I just didn't know how yet. It was at this moment of consideration that an unwelcome face appeared at the door behind the guards. It was the one person I least wanted to see - the person with the power and the motivation to ruin my life forever - the person who could make a hardened criminal quake in fear. I had seen her throw my co-workers to piranhas and shoot at RFCN contributors without fear or remorse.

"He's one of mine," Said Jane Goodall with a slight smirk on her face. "I've been expecting him."

"You know," I said, "I actually ... you're right. I'm an illegal immigrant. I got this license in California. You're so right. Nice catch. I'll be going ..."

"Not so fast," Said Jane. "This man is a criminal. He made off with my equipment a few hours ago in the jungle with a few of his cronies. Place him under arrest immediately."

"You can't let me into the consulate," I said, digging frantically through my wallet. Then I found what I was looking for. I produced the Mexican citizenship documents I had collected from a blackmailed mayor in a previous episode. "See? I'm not a US citizen."

"We still have authority to take you into custody," Said the soldier, grabbing my arm. I struggled, so a few more men came up and smashed the butts of their rifles into my ribs a few times. That took the fight out of me a for a moment. As I was dragged through the gate into the courtyard beyond, I screamed: "I want my phone call! Call the Mexican government! When they find out I'm here, they'll ... uh ... be ... all ... sad for me!" Then I shut up.

I was taken into the building and over to an elevator. The guard punched B2 and we went down two floors. We opened into a dismal concrete corridor with steel doors marked with ominous titles like I, II, III, and even IV. I was put in IV. The room was small with a low ceiling and a single naked light bulb hanging down at head level. There was a table with two chairs. I took one. Jane took the other. The guard stood behind me, ready to strike.

"Can we talk about this?" I asked, extending my hands in a pleading gesture.

"Let's," Said Jane with her usual impeccable coolness. She slowly raised one eyebrow. "Where do we begin?"

I cleared my throat again. The scratchiness was intensifying. "How about where I beg for forgiveness and ask you to please spare my life."

Jane studied me for a long moment as if she had just noticed something new. "You should know by now that I never forget."

"I ..."

"I'm not finished, do not interrupt me."

"Sorry. I'm really sorry."

Jane waited a moment as if to make sure I was done talking. "You should know by now that I never forget and I never forgive."

"But surely there's something I could do - some way to redeem myself."

"There is not. Someday, I will destroy you. Until then, you may live in fear."

"You mean ... you're not going to throw me in jail right this instant?"

"No. Not if you agree to a little bargain I have in mind."

"I knew it! Thanks, Ms. Goodall ... you won't regret it."

"You have not yet heard my offer."

"But I have accepted it, so tell me what to do."

"If only you were so willing this morning."

"I was shoveling monkey doo this morning!"

"No, you were collecting it, which is hardly the same thing."

"You don't want me to go back, do you?"

"Not at all. I have something much more ... American for you to take care of."

"Name it then."

Jane laced her fingers and rested her chin on them. "On the roof of this building, several local dignitaries are attending a party. Two of them are of special interest to you. The first is named Jared Woone. He's an assistant to the American consul. He's smitten with an attractive young Zimbabwean named Amadika. He has tried to meet her several times but she has rejected him. In fact, she has rejected all other men who have approached her. They are both at the party. You will arrange a meeting between Woone and Amadika."

"... Why?"

"For reasons known only to me. Convince Amadika to have a drink with Woone, and I will refrain from jailing you."

"But you'll still ruin my life."

"Eventually."

"Consider it done. Show me the way."

Jane led me back into the elevator and punched a button marked R. We went up six floors and got out on a roof-top pool party. The population consisted of fat people in suits and party dresses and skinny people swimming. Jane quietly pointed to a white guy in an expensive blue pinstripe suit standing in the corner nursing a whiskey and scowling.

Then she pointed to a gorgeous African girl sitting at the bar looking bored. I mean, we're talking Beyonce meets Ashanti. I was really intimidated. I'm not good with women, in case you hadn't noticed. But they don't call me Desperate Student because I only do what I'm good at!

After a moment of deliberation, I walked confidently up to the bar and plopped myself into the seat to Amadika's left. I cleared my throat once. The scratchiness in my throat hadn't gone away. "Well," I said, "Here comes the next contestant."

Amadika turned slowly to face me with a bored expression. "And what's your story?" She asked with a delightful Zimbabwean accent.

"I was born in a hospital with white sheets. Then some stuff happened. Then I met you."

She waited for a second, then smiled slightly. "That's actually kind of a good one."

"Good enough to let me buy you a drink?"

"All right."

"Well, I'm not going to buy you a drink."

"... Okay?"

"But I know a guy who will."

"What, did someone send you here to talk for him?"

"The man I'm about to mention, I've never even met."

"Then, what is this?"

"I saw him watching you across the room and I saw you sitting here alone."

"Jared Woone?"

"Yes."

"I won't drink with him."

"I think you could have a great conversation! Come on, Amadika. Just one drink."

"How do you know my name?"

I hesitated for a second. Then leaned forward. "Listen, I'm going to tell you something that sounds totally ridiculous, but it's true."

She crossed her arms skeptically. "Try me."

"I'm a Mexican citizen. I was taken into the consulate for committing crimes against Americans and secured a deal for my release. I have to convince you to have a drink with Jared Woone or they'll lock me up and throw away the key."

"You're right, that does sound ridiculous."

"But you believe me, don't you?"

"You seem honest." She studied my face for a moment, tapping her lips with her finger. "You're from Mexico?"

"No, I'm a Mexican citizen."

"And you were arrested for crimes against Americans?"

"Of which I am guilty."

"What crimes?"

"I stole an armed jeep and a bunch of weaponry and assisted in the attempted assassination of the President of Zimbabwe."

"Why?"

I reached into my pocket and produced a handful of loose change. "For this."

"You need money?"

"I need to get back to America."

"You mean Mexico."

"No, America."

She looked very confused. "If you were lying you would have come up with a better story than this. I believe you, Mister ..."

"Just call me Desperate Student."

"I believe you, Mister Student. I will have your drink with Mister Woone."

I clapped my hands in exultation. "Thanks, Amadika. You won't regret it!" And with that, I dashed off in Woone's direction.

"Woone!" I cried, grabbing his arm. This was a bad way to start. The man jumped backward in surprise, spilling whiskey on himself.

"What on earth?" He muttered, brushing at his tie. "Of all the nerve ..."

"Amadika wants to have a drink with you."

"You are sadly mistaken," He scowled.

"No, I'm serious. I just talked her into it."

He studied me more closely. "You? Why?"

"It's really complicated. Don't keep her waiting! Come on!"

"You listen to me," Said Woone, grabbing the front of my shirt. He paused with his finger in my face, then slowly released my shirt and wiped the hand on his pant thigh. "If you're having me on," He growled, "I will personally throw you off the building."

"It's for real. Honest."

He hesitated for a moment, then nodded and backed up. "How do I look?"

"Smashing," I lied. "Go to her."

He brushed his hands through his thinning hair nervously. "All right. All right I will." He waddled briskly off toward Amadika, as if to get it over with as quickly as possible. I shook my head sadly. Poor guy. He didn't stand a chance.

I turned and walked back to where Jane and the unnamed guard were watching with raised eyebrows and slight frowns.

"Well done," Jane said, surprised to hear herself say it. "I will drop all charges against you."

"Sweet! So can I go?"

She found what I said amusing. For the first time, I saw Jane flash a genuine smile. White teeth flashed, which she covered with her hand. "Of course. Good bye."

The guard showed me back to the gate of the consulate. I stepped out with a feeling that, though I hadn't escaped the country, I had done a good deed. I had given Jared Woone a chance with the girl of his dreams and I had cleared my criminal past (one portion of it, anyway - I don't suppose we should count my terrorist attack against a gas station in Episode 6).

I stepped back into the road in war-torn Harare and took a deep breath. It tickled something deep in my lungs and I coughed. My throat was very scratchy. Something was wrong. A coughing spell overtook me and I fell to my hands and knees. The force of the coughing built with every moment. I smelled the jungle. I gasped for breath. Then the street faded away.

I woke in a cot with white sheets. A nurse was standing next to my bed with a clipboard. I looked around for a moment and then focused on her. She made a check mark on the page.

"I'm Nancy," She said.

"Where am I? What happened?" Speaking hurt.

"You've contracted a rare, virulent disease. It's officially called VIRUS 200, but around here we call it Orangutan Flu. We're flying you back to the states, where you will be placed under indefinite study as a specimen."

I could almost hear Jane Goodall laughing.

5 comments:

Christopher Yerziklewski said...

Haha, oh man, that's classic. Irony rocks.

guitarbob said...

wow, thats amazing... whens desperate student going to meet hillary clinton? just wondering...

Matthew said...

When you publish the novel in physical form, I'll read it with joyful eyes (not bleary ones).

you can call me batman said...

LOL!!!! Desperate Student should set up a dating service when he gets out of the hospital. and seriously, if he can set up other couples, then he should get back together with Suzy. (maybe speak with her Dad... lol!)

Sarah said...

What a dreadfully long story, I might actually have to concentrate to get through that humongous wall of text!