Enigma's Glass of Wine
Sip your wine and tell yourself everything is going to be fine. That's what Colby had told Cheryl before slapping her left asscheek lightly and walking away from her into the deluge of fans, contemporaries, and buyers. Cheryl wasn't an artist nor could she draw a stick figure, but she looked good on Colby's arm and that's what counted to him. He was the talent, the goods, the reason people filled their Queens loft every Friday night. Meet the punchy raunchy painter of the moment, watch him in his own natural habitat. Oh, and his wife will be there, too, so that's nice. Cheryl Kinnison, nee' O'Connell, hated every goddamn thing about her life.
She'd work the party. Hi, how are you? Good. Oh, that's nice! Smile. Pat an arm. Kiss the cheeks of the women, side hug the bigger buyers. You could smell the money on these people. Was it their cologne? Do the one-percent need to wear cologne? They could smear cat feces and used coffee grounds on their collars and call it eau du Queens and say its chic and the peons would ask where to buy it.
Thank you for coming. No, still trying. Five years. Why yes, he is right over there. She could replace herself with an automated messaging machine and a slightly curvy mannequin and no one notice the switch. Your skin looks amazing, they'd probably say. Is that neoprene? Plastic? You just have to tell me where you got those arm nubs and blank starry eyes!
God, she thought sipping her fourth chardonnay, I'd be repulsed if the idea of Kansas and returning there didn't make me even more disgusted. Not all bad. At least Kansas residents had personality. You could be something as awful as a racist and people in Kansas could point you in the direction of people who you just had to meet. In Queens high society, you had to be one thing and one thing only: famous or attached to someone famous. She fell in the latter and despised the former.
Her inner monologue was interrupted halfway through her safari through the wild animal enclosure that was the loft's center room. A man. Early 20s but with bags under his eyes and a vest and intentionally loosened tie combo that pegged him quickly as lucky little shit who got invited by a friend of a friend. He had grabbed her elbow only slightly. “Mrs. Kinnison?” he asked, his voice shaky, young, and practiced.
“Yes? I'm sorry, I don't know you. You are?”
“I'm the enigma and I think I'm going to have to kill every single person in the loft tonight. Please don't be mad. I just want to give you the chance to exit the premises before the,” he gestured with a crude hand movement over his throat. “you know...slaughter.”
“I'm sorry, who did you say you were?”
“...the enigma...are you even listening?” His voice hadn't been shaky or practiced after all. He wasn't nervous. He was in a hurry.
Cheryl brushed a strand of her lengthy curled red hair back over her ear and leaned toward the man. “Well, as artist names go, it's not half bad. I'd work on the pitch though. You sound practically psychotic. Have you met...”
“It's not a pitch and I'm not an artist.” He looked down at his outfit and young appearance. “Well, he is. He probably is. I'm not. I'm the enigma. I move society along with the necessary expulsion of lives. I inhabited this young man's...”
“Rudy! Rudy, is that you?” Cheryl yelled at a distinctive old man in a cherry red suit complete with top hat and long twisty mustache. He approached the hostess, arms extended. She turned to the younger man post-hug. “Rudy Red Bird, this is... I'm sorry, dear, what did you say your name was?”
“I... hi, how are you?” the younger man extended his hand to the old character. He gestured for the red colored man to walk away. “Excuse us,” he pulled Cheryl to the side of the center room near the stocked bar. “Cheryl, this isn't a joke. I need you to leave and I need you to leave soon. I am going to be killing all of these people and I don't need you to see this.”
Cheryl's voice began to reflect a concerning but all too condescending tone. “Sir, I don't know what experimental theater project you're working on, but my husband surely hasn't agreed to let you do any blood gushing show here. We have just had the hardwood replaced.”
“It is not an art project. It's not a show. I have to kill all of these attending this party and it needs to happen in,” he checked the young man's wrist, saw no watch, and checked his iPhone instead. “thirteen minutes.”
She stared at him, her blue eyes examining every inch of his face and demeanor. Rarely, she likened herself to a cold reader. She could see weakness before strength, faults before solutions, and cowardice before bravery. This character she spoke to had no contrarian twitches or giveaways. To look at him as he spoke his piece, you'd be hard pressed to think he was throwing anything other than straight dice. “Why?”
The edge of his lip curled slightly. “Are you sure you don't mean how?”
She mimicked his lip's movement. “Whatever could that mean?”
He leaned in, his mouth inches from her ear. “I can spot one from a mile away. A finished piece. A completed work. A written novel. You, Mrs. Colby Kinnison, think your story's done and this is how it ends: death by a million dull conversations or asphyxiation by way of squeezing yourself constantly into black slinky dresses. I can assure you,” he leaned even closer. “your story is far from finished.”
She was taken aback. First, this man told her he was going to kill all her friends...her husband's friends at least. Then he tells her that she can get away before Jonestown via Queens proxy begins. To finish, he assures her that there is just so much more to her than meets the eyes.
“You're quite good. How much did you rehearse that speech?”
“I don't rehearse anything. I work in the moment. Whatever means are available. Due to a lack of needing a body, self-destructive paths are easily followed. Once or twice, I've made it to the end though. I've made it to the end and had to do the necessaries. I'm not cruel. I don't want the chap or chapette I'm borrowing to have to answer for whatever it is I've done.” He had made his way over to the bar and filled a highball with a bourbon neat. “You do that and suddenly you have to watch that person get called a mass murderer and the whole thing has to be fixed and it's a mess and bleh.”
“Once or twice before... have you done this before?” Cheryl asked, tucking her arm under the other and holding her wine glass inches from her lipstick colored lips.
“Wholesale slaughter to keep the story going? Sure. Millions of times. Most of the time I just make a guy drink too much one night and cut his brakes. Other times, I just get a guy to smoke too many cigarettes at a young age and wait for the lung cancer to kick in.” He took a long luxurious sip from his bourbon. “The story must be told and it must be told in the correct order. There are no mistakes. Except when I'm supposed to make a mistake.”
“How does that work?” The chardonnay and atmosphere was talking for her now. To say the man had peaked her interest with his macabre tale was an understatement.
“Oh, I don't know the story. I just go where I'm needed. Like Quantum Leap but with murder and death and despair. I don't even know what I'm doing until twenty or so minutes before I have to do it. Sometimes I'm just on autopilot, watching from inside a husk. I grab the controls just on the off-chance he or she tries to change the story.”
“Tonight I'm killing this room and every one in it,” he pointed the half-empty glass at her. “except you. You live to tell the tale. I imagine you staying alive and the fact that they told me you stay alive has something to do with moving the story along.” The young man and his alleged spirit dweller finished the bourbon off. “Thus, you aren't done yet.” He checked the wrist again, guffawed, checked the phone, and shook his head. “Ten minutes.”
Cheryl was concerned for this young man's mental health. He wasn't just convinced of his own delusions; he was convincing. You'd never know a poisoned cup of coffee was bad if you pour enough sugar into it.
She spoke apprehensively and in an unnecessarily hushed voice, “I think you need to leave, love. I won't tell anyone what you said. I don't care about these people, but even I don't want to see them in caskets. So, please... go.”
The enigma shrugged his shoulders. “I could. I mean, I could have this husk leave the apartment...”
“Loft,” she corrected.
“Loft,” he said. “I could have this fellow leave the apartment, walk downstairs, catch a coffee or maybe one of those street hot dogs people in this city are so fond of. But,” he motioned his arm in a waving motion. “all of these people are getting checked off the list tonight.”
“There's a list?”
“No, there's not a literal list. God, try to think figuratively. They're doomed. They are set in stone. They all have permission slips to the summer camp in the sky.”
Except me, she thought. But why me? There are three city council members here. A magazine editor. Rudy Red Bird. The amount of influence in this room was unquantifiable. She was a world famous artist's arm candy wife. Her ass looked great in this black dress and her red hair and lips made her just distinct enough to have a look named after her. But why her?
“Seven minutes,” the enigma said. “You should really grab a smoke or something. Maybe take a walk up to the roof access.”
“I want to die.” The words had spilled out of her mouth before she could realize what they meant and who she was saying them to.
“Of course you do. Tell me this... how many has it been since you caught him inside his assistant?”
“Don't be coy.”
“I don't know...”
“I said don't be coy.”
“I'm not. I literally don't know how many. If I sat down with his Facebook and a notepad, I could maybe count the faces. Hell,” she pointed out a small frame petite woman with her blond hair tied into a tight ponytail. “even I got to bed the assistant.”
“That's a new one. 2016 is such a fun time for sexuality. Good for you.” He refilled Cheryl's glass and poured himself a fresh bourbon. “You can't leave him. You're afraid of becoming what you once were. You've come too far. It's either one of those or all three.”
It's all three, she thought. Out loud, she whispered, “I'm just not interested in watching myself fuck every single male or female my husband has ever met or worked with. I thought at first I was getting back at him for his indiscretion. Now I realize that it wasn't revenge; it was exploitation. I just needed a push into becoming this person. It had always been dormant. Now it is dominant. And it makes me want to die every time I let it take over.”
“That without pleasure is without pain. That which starts bitter ends sweet. Or something like that. I don't do philosophy if you can believe it or not.” Phone check. “Five minutes, Cheryl. We're getting down to the buffer zone here. If I have to burn the loft down, you'll want to be far away.”
“Can I not grab a few things?”
“I don't see why not.”
In the solidarity of her bedroom, Cheryl knelt at the foot of her bed and tried to steady her breathing. The young man had gotten to her. Away from him now, she realized that he was just what she had always thought, a mad man of his rocker. She kept asking herself how to approach the next step. How could she notify Colby of the murderer in their midst? The young man seemed so sure of himself.
Conflicted, she left the bedroom with nothing. She walked out into the center room and began looking for the young man she had spent the last ten minutes talking to. Had it been five minutes already? How long had it been since the last time check? What was so crucial about that time anyway? The crowd was ebbing and flowing, consistent, and settled. There were no departures or arrivals. It was too late in the event for that.
Where was he?
Cheryl walked up to Colby, kissed his cheek, and told him she was stepping outside for some air. He patted her ass again, winked, and went back to discussing Capote's earlier works with some collegiate type.
As she made her way up to the roof, she thought about what all the things the man had said and how clear and concise the message had seemed to be. She was crucial to the story of the world. So much so that the agent of chaos himself, the enigma, had told her to be away from the loft when the killing began, both to protect her reputation and her life. What extraordinary circumstances had lead to such a crazy individual to tap into her elbow and talk to her like that?
On the roof now, she took a lawn chair from a stack set aside for roof dwellers and sat down in it. The city was beautiful at night, all lit up. It gave her hope. It made her happy and it made her want to be as beautiful as the city was at night. In a minute or so, the loft three stories below her would either erupt in a slaughter fit for scripture or would stay at the slight simmer it was accustomed to. Her husband, her cheating lying waste of oxygen husband, would either be shaken from his mortal coil or continue to convince the adoring college fangirl into a threeway. Queens high society and the royalty that ruled it would either irrevocably change or stay the course.
Suddenly, an epiphany came to Cheryl Kinnison. It was so simple. It was so indulgent and yet so cruel. This was her personified. She was death incarnate or the life of the party. She was misery or she was pure frivolity. It didn't matter if the enigma was even real or not. It didn't matter if he was a figment of her imagination. No matter the outcome, it would only solidify a portion of the life choices she had made up to this point. She'd die a society wife who doesn't divorce her much wealthier husband or she'd be the new queen of high life with a shiny new sympathy bouquet to wear around her head. The enigma wasn't a thing or agent of chaos. Her life was the enigma. Her life did matter or it didn't. There was no middle ground. The story of the world was going to continue with or without its Queens slaughter.
All these things considered, the Kansas redhead picked up the glass of chardonnay she had carried up to the roof with her. She would finally take her husband's advice. Sip your wine, Cheryl, and tell yourself everything is going to be fine.