The Dude's Lair
Note: This story belongs to TR and his minions
of Darkness. Stealing it is a bad, bad idea. So don’t.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forums (Part One)
"What?" came a muffled voice, from the dark depths of the Closet.
"I said, where the fuck is the Dude, dude." Angel de la Torres repeated, annoyed. Blue, still in a crouch, backed out of the Closet corner, pushing aside faded prom finery on hangers, both hands full of shabby, mismatched high-heeled shoes. He looked up at Angel, blinking in the bright light of the naked bulb overhead. A strappy pink shoe thunked to the dusty floor.
"Did you check the Throne Room?" Blue asked.
"Duh. Of course I did. First place I looked…well, uh, second place," There was a snicker from behind Angel, near the open door. Angel glanced back briefly, wondering just how much this supposed newbie really knew about AD, then looked back to Blue, who was sorting shoes by color on the floor between them, "Second place I checked. So does that mean you don’t know?"
"Huh?" Blue said. Angel slapped him, gently, upside the head. "Oh, right, his Dudeness," Blue said, absently rubbing where Angel had hit him, and setting a circa 70’s rhinestone stiletto neatly down beside its mate. "Not sure, last I saw, he was frisking readers at the Forum door again."
Angel rolled his eyes and groaned. "Shit! We can’t afford to buy off another judge. Why the hell didn’t you stop him?"
Blue peered up at Angel, his watery blue eyes filled with hurt. "What, me? Stop the Dude?" But Angel was already moving, gathering up the newbie at the door before exiting through it, his departure unnoticed by the man on the Closet floor.
Out in the hallway, new kid in tow, Angel hurried away from the Closet, neatly sidestepping the moldering, waist-high stacks of magazines with names like Stud, Men and ManHole, weaving a route through the clutter and gloom.
The floor was littered with wilted condoms, pinfeathers and small change, all stuck to the linoleum with what the Dude liked to call ‘the fruits of our endeavors’. The florescent lights on the ceiling lent an institutional ambience, which perfectly complimented the graffiti-enhanced Safe Sex posters along the grimy walls.
The backrooms at AD were pretty raunchy, Angel realized, a little self-conscious with the new kid there, but, he reminded himself, that was mainly because the help never stayed. The turnover was amazing. No matter how many lithe Korean boys the Dude hired, after a few weeks of being felt up and subjected to midnight cavity searches by horny writers, not even the Dude’s generous salary seemed worth it and they’d disappear. On the plus side, of course, it saved a fortune in benefits, overtime and catered lunches.
Still, it always embarrassing when outsiders came through, demanding Hazmat suits and directions to the decontamination chamber after the first ten steps. Of course, the basement was much worse, what with the BON monster’s leavings, but they never actually took visitors there, just left the old coal chute open. If people wanted to wander in and take their chances with all that Nifty stuff, well, as his Dudeness liked to say, that was their lookout. Caveat lector.
Angel glanced back at the kid on his heels, just in time to see him pocket a handful of quarters that had probably been earmarked for TR’s laundry. He met Angel’s eyes with an air of studied innocence. This newbie really was an exception, he seemed to…well, enjoy the dirt and filth. Maybe he would fit at Awestruck Dude, after all, Angel thought hopefully.
That last one, Rick, had had no complaints, that was for sure. At least not since he’d stumbled across David’s secret stash of fine Czechoslovakian porn. Angel hadn’t seen him for ages, but TR said he sent in another of his graphic, romantic wank stories every Thursday, like clockwork. Pickled Peter Piper’s Penis Paean…or some such title, was his latest, ah, offering. Try saying that title six times fast. El Duderino loved him, natch.
But where was the Dude? They passed the open door of the Funny Forum and Angel held his breath, the stench of garlic was incredible. No one, not even Blue in his French submissive-maid’s costume, had been in there to air it out, let alone clean, for months. Not since the big AD pizza blowout. In retrospect, Angel mused, offering highly spiced Italian sausage to a vampire might have been a mistake on Codey’s part, however well intended.
But the Funny Forum looked even worse than it smelled.
Shreds of old limericks and suspicious looking puddles graced the cobwebbed doorway; beside it, faded Polaroids were thumbtacked to a corkboard. Behind him, the newbie chortled happily to himself, but Angel didn’t glance back to see what had amused him. Better not to know, he reasoned. He was pretty sure, though, almost completely positive, that he’d taken down those really embarrassing ones of him and Prince Gustav. Who knew a 170-year-old vampire could be so kinky? Angel rubbed his wrists absently, remembering.
They passed Review Row, fancy name for the tiny cupboard where the Dude ‘stored’ (read: dumped) the hard work of dedicated AD reviewers (read: suckups). Not like anybody ever went there, Angel reasoned. Who reads real books these days? Not the losers around here, that’s for sure.
Ahead of them, the yuppie-trendy saloon doors of the Editor’s lounge flapped open, disgorging AJ, who clasped a tattered medical bag and displayed the usual signs of yet another exuberant game of ‘doctor’. When he saw Angel, he grinned, and then groaned, squinting in the sudden light of the fluorescents overhead. Angel stopped, suddenly, and the new kid bumped up against him, mumbling apologies. Angel reached back reflexively to check his pockets.
"Angel?" AJ queried, tucking in his tee shirt with his free hand. Printed over the belly area, in small print, were the words ‘As long as you’re this close, why don’t you just suck my dick?’ T-Shirt Hell.com rocked, Angel thought, privately amused. Publicly, he didn’t react. It was never good to encourage AJ, and right now he looked exhausted.
"Yeah, honey, what’s up? You look awful, what’ve you been doing?" Angel asked, putting his hand on AJ’s shoulder.
"Oh, you know," he said vaguely, "a little this, a little that…"
"Little?" Angel asked, peering into the murky depths of the Editor’s den, "Giving Naillo another official AD physical, were you?" Behind Angel, the newbie giggled.
"Um, no, well…" AJ mumbled, looking down, "Aaron, uh, he…said he had a boo-boo."
Angel rolled his eyes.
"Oh, did he? And did you kiss it better?"
AJ stood taller, clutching the doctor’s bag to his chest. "I am a registered nurse," he said, in tones of injured dignity.
"Nurse, yes, AJ, proctologist, no." Angel pointed out. The new kid snickered. AJ shrugged, looking over Angel’s shoulder with interest.
"Who’s the fish?" AJ asked.
"Says his name’s Josiah. Came down from a cloud to see el Jefe; I’m taking him on up through the Forums." Angel told him.
"Hmm. He gay?" AJ asked.
"Hard to tell, he’s English."
AJ studied the suddenly shy newcomer, who was now shrinking up closer, behind Angel’s slim backside. A little too close, Angel thought with annoyance, feeling a clammy hand cup his left cheek. Hmm.
"Yeah, AJ, I think he’s gay." Angel said, trying to sound irritated. He thought of moving his ass out of reach, but what the hell. As the Dude was fond of saying, a little pat-n-tickle never hurt anybody.
"Really?" asked AJ, his eyes getting that alert ferret look, so famous around the Forums. And this new boy couldn’t be much over eighteen. Angel sighed. They didn’t have time for one of AJ’s freshman examinations.
"Yeah, really," Angel said, striking a pose calculated to distract AJ. As usual, it worked; AJ’s eyes were now riveted to Angel’s fly rivets. "So, AJ, you know where he is?"
"Huh? Who?" AJ asked. He licked his lips unconsciously as Angel adjusted the object of his interest. Angel smirked.
AJ was so easy.
"El Duderino, AJ, the Boss. Know where he is?" Angel repeated.
"Uh…have you tried the Throne Room?" AJ asked, distracted.
"Second place I checked."
"Oh…right, so you already looked in--"
"Yeah. So, no clue?" Angel asked.
"Sorry." said AJ. Angel gave an oddly Gallic shrug.
"Oh, well, onward and upward. Had to ask." Angel said. He motioned to Josiah and brushed past AJ, who squeezed Angel’s goolies in his traditional friendly gesture of farewell. Angel heard Josiah gasp as he passed AJ, but said nothing.
Best that newbies learn early on what to expect. Shyness just wouldn’t cut it, not here at AD.
Angel wove a path through the debris, ever increasing as they approached the next two Forums. Half finished stories, empty beer cans, those pesky ‘nuts and bolts of writing’ everyone always leaves lying about, and unclaimed underwear littered the hallway. Stale smoke hung in the air, making it difficult to see. Which was probably for the best.
High-volume Stones exploded outward as someone shoved the red-lit door ahead of them open, and then staggered into the hall. It was Graeme, eyes bloodshot, clutching his stomach. Angel ignored him, sliding through the open door and pulling Josiah after him. Behind them came the sound of retching.
Aussies, Angel thought with a grimace. Down under. Down under a table, more like. No wonder the Writers’ Workshop Forum was a mess. Graeme’s display of what passed for charm down in Oz was annoying enough without the goddamn cold water balloons he usually attacked passerby with. His Dudeness must have explained hundred times what condoms were really for, but did it do any good? Aussies.
Of course, there was also TR, who didn’t even have that much excuse. God only knew where he was hatched. Ever since TR had taken over, things had really gone downhill in the Writers’ Forum. Angel held his nose daintily, punched the off button of the cheap Korean stereo, and looked around the dimlit room.
To his right, Pecman’s Altar stood; black candles guttering down on the stone surface of the sacrificial table. Above it, written on parchment in a fussy, tiny script, and in a color suspiciously close to blood-red, hung Pecman’s Writers’ Rules of Unquestioning Obedience. The long, tediously detailed manuscript fell to the floor behind the Altar in a mass of paper and punctuation. Scrawled alongside it were the occasional rude comments crayoned in by the braver, or less sober, souls among AD writers.
His Pecness did not suffer fools at all well, but, fortunately for the new kid, Der Pec didn’t appear to be in just now; and whoever he’d last had on the stone slab (or what was left of same) had been removed. It appeared, relatively, safe to enter.
To Angel’s left, opposite the Altar, stood the vacant Wal-Mart brand (clearance sale) tee-pee used by Sequoyah for, according to him, inspiration. What all those nubile young Native boys who visited had to do with inspiration was anybody’s guess. Behind it, Trab hung from a cobwebbed meathook, hanged in effigy (Angel hoped in effigy, though he was pretty sure ‘hung’ really was the wrong word in this case) during last month’s Writer’s Block toga kegger. So far, no one had missed him.
Angel peered around the enormous room.
"TR?" Angel called cautiously. Sesame Street blankets in the corner stirred, a huge pile of them was heaped up under a velvet paint-by-numbers of dancing unicorns. Angel moved closer, Josiah at his back. For comfort, Angel thought; he’s probably scared, poor kid. The new ones always were. Six months from now, though, he’d be drinking to excess and singing Klingon bar songs with all the rest. Angel sighed. Were all writers crazy, or just the ones here at AD? And that TR was the worst.
Lucky, lucky me, thought Angel.
"TR?" Angel asked, poking delicately at the pile with the polished toe of his Cuban-heeled boot. A tousled head popped up; its owner grinned when he saw Angel.
Angel smiled, despite himself. "Hi, Codey, did I wake you up?" A second head popped up beside Codey’s, sweaty and red-faced. Watching over Angel’s silk clad shoulder, Josiah snickered. Codey blushed.
"Never mind, honey," Angel said, patting his head. "As you were." Codey’s friend smiled gratefully; Josiah snorted. Codey suddenly noticed the stranger.
"New kid, fresh off some cloud, here to meet the Dude." Angel told him.
Codey’s eyes widened. "Really? A cloud?"
"So he says," Angel told him, adding with a smirk, "He claims to have an in with the angels."
"Really?" Codey asked, amazed, "Real angels? Does he know Jamie?"
Angel glanced at Josiah, who looked lost. "Jamie ‘oo?" he asked in a clipped, Cockney accent.
"Jamie? Jamie’s wonderful! Jamie knows other angels, too, knows tons of them," Codey told him breathlessly, "Jamie says angels are all noble and wonderful guys, very smart, Jamie says, very brave, and very, very chaste."
Josiah snickered and said something under his breath as Codey continued, undeterred. "Jamie says angels are much nicer than people, have enormous magical balls that you get to see if you’re really lucky, and Jamie says they all have super special powers they use only for good and noble causes, never evil ones. Jamie says--"
"Yes, honey," Angel interrupted gently, "We know, but can you just tell us where TR is?"
"Oh, sure!" Codey bubbled, pointing toward gloom at the back of the Writers’ Forum. "He’s back there, chain-smoking Turkish Blend Camels and thinking. TR says he does his very best thinking when he’s all alone, nobody else, just him, TR says; just smoking and drinking Vanilla Pepsi, completely and totally alone, him and Mr. Hand, and I’m not allowed to interrupt, never, ever. TR says--"
"Right, thanks." Angel said hurriedly, moving away, and pulling a tittering Josiah with him. "Zip it." Angel told him crossly. Codey’s enthusiasms could be amusing, it was true, but he’d be damned if he’d let some Limey fish hurt the kid’s feelings.
Looking back, Angel realized he shouldn’t have worried, Codey was again busy with his friend, oblivious to any and all undercurrents. Which was probably for the best. The undercurrents at AD were sometimes a challenge, even for him. Not to mention the air pollution, Angel reminded himself, as he walked towards the menacing black cloud in the back of the Writer’s Forum. He concentrated on breathing through his mouth.
"TR?" Angel called carefully. "You there?"
No answer. Josiah shifted his feet nervously.
"Ay, Angel, ‘is ‘ere place gimme the creeps, ‘oo is ‘is ‘ere TR bloke?" Josiah asked in a hushed voice, his words barely intelligible to the Puerto Rican-American. "’E some kinda drugged ow’ dark lord pervert or sumpin’?"
"Worse," Angel said grimly, "He’s a writer."
From the depths of blackness, came a deep echoing voice, thunderous and mighty.
"Who dares to seek the Tragical Rabbit?"
Josiah jumped in fright, then clung to Angel, presumably for protection. Either that, or it just felt good. Angel rolled his eyes, squared his shoulders and yanked the Brit’s hand out of his back pocket.
"Turn off the fucking reverb, TR, it’s me."
"Me, who?" Came the thundering response.
"Me, Angel, you asshole, now will you turn that fucking thing off?"
"Oh, sorry," came the response, at normal volume, "I didn’t hear you come in."
Even with the FX off, the voice seemed disembodied, eerie; nothing could be seen in the black shadows. Angel whipped out his trusty Bic.
"No!" TR’s voice called out, frantic, "Don’t light that, Angel! It…might not be…safe."
Angel rolled his eyes. "Jesus, what’ve you guys been doing in here?"
"Don’t ask." TR said, gloomily. There was a long sigh of dramatic proportions.
"Right. Well, um, I’ve got this new guy here and I’m looking for el Duderino, but I’m not having any luck." Angel told the darkness.
"Ah, a Quest." TR said, in portentous tones. Josiah giggled nervously.
"Oh, fuck that, TR, where’s the Boss?" the slim drama student demanded, annoyed. TR was such a loser; Angel was always so embarrassed at the Fictional Character Union’s monthly meetings. He’d won the Who’s Got The Stupidest Writer contest eight months running. If he had to wear that goddam dunce cap and Smurf cockring one more time, he was gonna file a formal grievance.
"Sorry." TR’s voice said from the shadows, contrite. "It’s just that I was sitting here, Thinking, and I had this marvelous idea for a story about Lancelot and King Arthur… something about lances…I’m a little…vague on details but definitely swordplay was involved. I see…the red-light district of fair Camelot and…I see…these two midget swordsmen who--"
"Fuck that, too, TR," snapped Angel, "Have you seen his Dudeness or not?"
"Uh…" TR’s voice sounded a trifle confused, "Uh, not, I should think. I haven’t been out of this Forum for days, I’m nearly out of Vanilla Pepsi. Hey, Angel, I don’t suppose you could--"
"No, I couldn’t." Angel interrupted, annoyed. "I’m busy."
"Right, right…" TR said, his voice trailing off vaguely. Angel didn’t wait for more, he grabbed Josiah’s arm, patted his pert bottom for luck, and hustled him briskly toward a red door along the connecting wall, the secret back entrance to the Reader’s Forum.
If Blue was right, as sometimes happened, the Dude might be having some fun at the front door in there, and, if he was, Angel wanted to, ah…surprise him. Angel just prayed that el Jefe would be dressed when he did, or the new kid would get a bigger surprise than he’d expected. Much bigger. The big guy wasn’t called the Boss for nothing.
Angel turned the knob and pushed open the door to the Readers Rule Forum.
[End of Part One, tune in Wednesday for Part Two!]
Disclaimer: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forums is a work of fiction, that is, it is a complete and total pack of outright lies and bears no resemblance to anyone living, dead or writing at AD. That said, TR cannot be reached for comment, so don’t try. He’s disabled all email addresses, phone numbers, and IM contacts, installed burglar bars and is wearing his tin-foil hat religiously. So no matter what Shakespeare and the Klingons say about revenge, don’t even think about it. Just suck it up, kid. The story still belongs to TR, though, so no stealing. Seriously.