Man In Picture v2.0 chapter seven, “Carlo Tarcisi”

We talk politics and religion.  Celebrities and ordinary people.  He’s friendly and charismatic.  A quick smile and hazel eyes that seem easy to read.  I can’t help but like this man.  We smoke and drink and talk.  We tell each other excellent stories.

He smokes Dunhills, I smoke American Spirit Ultra Lights.  We try each other’s.  He tells me mine are like smoking angel hair pasta without any sauce.  I till him his are like meat lasagna with a layer of charcoal.

After a time, Carlo looks at me and says with some gravity, “Let’s us visit my shop, you and I.  It’s just round the corner and up the street.”  I tell him I’ve suffered an injury to both of my legs and can’t walk far.  I’m conserving energy for my return to the ship, I say.

“I have a car”, he says, “I’ll get you back in time”, he slides open his phone.  He texts.

Like the movies, an immaculate black Mercedes sedan emerges from around the corner.  The sound of it’s slow rolling tires on a wet and dirty street is something I can’t help but exalt in my head.  I love this sound.  Car wheels on a gravel road.  “Wait, bring your drink, get him a refill!”, barks my new friend Carlo.  Once inside the car, our drinks are passed to us through the open windows in plastic cups.

I’m drinking snake bites.  Hard cider and ale.  Bad idea.  Makes me mean.  Carlo sips from a clear plastic tumbler of what looks like cold medicine with weeds in it.  Who knows?  A mojito?  I haven’t ordered or bought a drink since he sat down.

“I’m going to sell you a watch my friend”, we’re in the back seat, charging up a hill.  He smiles big.  Teeth immaculate.  His face is round, young and enthusiastic.

“A good watch at a good price”, he says.

I don’t feel like I need a watch.  Is that all this is about?  I’ve had no success with them.  They quit working or I lose them.  I like watches.  The precision and the aesthetic.  I’ve always admired them.  I’m kinda broke, most likely unemployed.  I say nothing.  This is a bad idea.  I look out the window.

The surroundings speed by and atrophy by the block.

I was thinking I’d made a friend.  I like this guy.

Past twilight.

No shit, I’m confused.  Some cosmopolitan oddity that I’ve just bonded with on a muddy sidewalk in a third world country wants to take me to his store to sell me a watch?  What the fuck?

Flags go up.

How do I get myself into this shit?

Who is this guy?

I can barely walk.

I look at him and he nods his head while patting his knee.  He’s composed but anxious and I don’t know what to make of it.

I listen to the tires.

We get to the place and the driver puts a fedora on his head before stepping around.  He opens the door for me, then Carlo.

It’s dark.  There’s a single lamp at the end of a long road.  A spooky business district that probably evacuates just before sundown.  Every venue with bars on the windows and those segmented security doors that roll down and lock at the bottom.  Curbs but no asphalt.  Sidewalks but no street. I swear I hear bats.

I won’t succumb to fear.  I can’t allow it.  This isn’t right.  It sucks.  It’s dark.  My legs are killing me.  They will betray me.  Something will deliver me to him right about now and I’ll be helpless and Carlo will laugh maniacal.

“No worries my friend, you’re safe”, he says, looking me in the eye while he pulls out his keys.

I tell him I’m fine and remember my cane.  I’m sweating.  My back is damp.

My shoes are noisy as fuck.  His aren’t.

I’m a little light in the head and breathing hard.

Then.

The shop is a wonder.  A modest storefront on approach.  “Carlo’s Emporium” it says, red and gold in a nineteenth century font.

Labyrinthian inside.

Aisles and rows, irregular of shape with dark corners and odd angles.

The smell of Soaps and salves, potions, lotions and concoctions.

I smell lavender and sandalwood, cinnamon, ylang ylang, patchouli, verbena, licorice, vanilla and earthier more subtle aromas.  An olfactory feast.

Behind the counter all manner of teas, dried weeds and flowers, tobaccos, herbs, insects………a mortar and pestle on the counter next to an ancient scale, paper funnels, empty but corked glass tubes, tins and jars.

Bird’s eggs, fossils, telescopes, globes, animal fetuses in backlit jars, glass eyes, pipes, cigarettes, cigars, lighters, maps, watches, real skulls, human bones and tusks. Guns, rusty knives and swords.

Mounted dragon flies, wasps, beetles, scorpions and black widows.  All giant and arresting though nestled dead in cotton batting.

Masks, odd statues,  ancient anatomy books, old diving helmets and suits made from canvass and brass, velvet paintings, pinball machines and an impressive array of gumball dispensers.  I smell hot greasy fries and ketchup.  Popcorn and maybe the spun sugar of cotton candy.

A popcorn cart.

Everywhere I turn there’s something to covet.   This place is fucking unbelievable.

A huge bin of superballs in neon or with glitter inside.

Cool paintings.  Old posters.  Unopened model rockets from the seventies.  Bins of comic books and bookshelves of The National Geographic.  Old Swamp Thing comics illustrated by Bernie Wrightson in protective mylar.  Original Frank Frazetta, Arthur Suydam and Barry Windsor Smith.

I look closer, there’s a beaker pale green and bubbling with a two headed rodent bobbing.  Organs floating and churning in red or yellow aqueous.

The more I look, the more I see.

There are live owls in the rafters.  Almost completely silent but not at all shy about staring through me.  There’s five at least and they never stop shooting beams.

You know, owls are fierce predators but the biggest ones weigh a mere few pounds.  Their bones are hollow but they are fierce predators.  I could take one out with a badminton racket easy.  For five, I’d probably need a bat or at least a tennis racket.

He reaches under a dusty counter for a tray of watches, and I’m dismayed.  It just reminds me that I don’t understand what’s happening.  I’m confused.  Why would this guy bring me here to sell me a fucking watch?

I mean, Carlo Tarcisi has far more going on than selling watches to dipshit drunken tourists with an unexplained handicap.  As far as I know anyway.

The owls mock me.

I look deliberately at the tray of watches for the first time because I don’t know what else to do.  Craftsmanship.  Nice watches.

Brand names.

There are maybe two dozen and he goes through them with rapid grace, naming the brand and features, weight and thickness, jewels etc.  He smiles while he does this.  He’s proud of them and pleased to offer them to me.  His hands are fast but old.

His hands are old but his face is young.

I know enough.  I’ve admired exclusive watches.  Bezel, band, movement, crown, case and crystal.  These are gorgeous.  They are real.  Authentic.  I’m sure.

I tell Carlo that although I literally just got off the boat, I have no money.  I apologize to him if I’ve somehow misrepresented myself, allowing him to think I was a man of means and in the market for a luxury timepiece.  I am embarrassed and still very confused.

He calls me by my first name, smiles and says, “It’s a gift.  Compensate with friendship and honesty.”

This confuses me further, so I tell him I’d like to buy him one last drink before I go back to the boat.

The Owls compose a very complex chord.  Dissonant and spooky.  Seems to be a note to signal wrong answer.  Everything seems green and blue.

He beams at me and seems lit from beneath, “I would recommend this one, Swiss movement, light in weight, still detailed in a way that appeals to one or both sides of your brain, not too flashy but still intricate and you clearly don’t favor gold.”

Just like that and it’s on my wrist.

It is silver and glistening.  A black detailed face with a style that doesn’t afford contemporary simplicity any more than a nod.  Despite Carlo’s words, it’s heft is still impressive.

He’s given me an authentic and beautiful chronograph for the sum of nothing.  I’ve made it clear I have no money to spare.

I remind him I’m good for a drink and he says quickly, “My friend, it is time we get you to your boat.”

He tells me on the way that I wear, an aura of trouble.  I look in his eyes and tell him I’m haunted and it’s as bad as he can possibly imagine.  He looks at his old hands in his lap and says, “I know”.

I knew he knew.

“We made friends today, you and I.  We are not finished”, he’s smiling.  “You like your new watch?”  I tell him it’s fucking awesome.  “Wear it to bed”, he says.  He nods at me to tell me he’s serious.

We approach the boat and he breaks character to become nearly ferocious when he grabs my collar to say, “Tell no one you’ve met me.  Say nothing of it.  I will find you tomorrow.  I’m going to try and help you.”

I’m frightened all over again.  The door is opened and he tells me with severity, while I gather myself, not to be foolish.  I immediately wonder what he means.

I barely have time to thank him and I’m stumbling with pain up the plank without knowing why any of this happened today.

Ever seen those electric meat carving knives?  My mom had one and could slice up a holiday turkey like a goddamn samurai.  Even as a kid I worried a little about that appliance.  It disturbed me.  I made my peace with it when I realized it was only formidable for the length of the cord.

I guess now they’re available battery operated.

After finally figuring out how to work the fucking lock on the door of my suite, he’s sitting on the end of my bed flicking a flame on a Zippo and then snapping it shut.  Over and over.  I’m frozen.  He looks at me and sings guttural that he got it from Carlo……  He’s in a pair of tighty whities and the blood from his eyes runs down his chest to stain them.

At his side, on the bed, is one of those knives.

I back out.  He screams HA, I can’t tell if it’s angry or amused.

I scramble for a bar on aching legs, I don’t know what else to do.

In the middle of the ship there’s a glass elevator that starts in the lobby, near the bar where I sit, it goes all the way up.  He mocks me from it.  Dabbing at his eyes to write my name on the glass with blood on his fingers.  At first he writes it backward.  Then he get’s it right and he’s delighted.  The passengers don’t seem to notice.

This is not my father’s nightmare.

We’re in for a very long night.

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