There was a crack of thunder as lightning split the sky over Brooklyn. A deluge had started. My “friend” Louie and I milled around what used to be Pogs’s apartment. The man had taken his nickname from the now antiquated game that plays a lot like marbles, except it involved moving stylized faces on round, flat discs of cut board by tossing in a jagged, metallic game piece.
Anyway, Louis sat down on an old, red, motheaten chair. He put out his pipe on a gilded dish that had begun to tarnish from the straight razor (eg, from Pogs cutting cocaine) and show the bronze beneath.
“Louis, leave that alone, it belonged to a dead man.” I said.
Louis scowled and placed the pipe on its side on the plate.
“Why are we here again?” Louis said.
“We’re ah—were looking for clues,” I replied. “I thought I told you that before.”
“Clues to what though, Ben? Everyone knows what happened. Unless we hire a private investigator, were more or less lost at sea…argh.” Louis said, taking a theatrical hook handed swipe near my face. My cocked fist warded him off.
I sighed, supposing that was true. It was a case of hermetism in plain sight. At the height of the summer, Pogs had gone off the radar, which basically amounted to him having deleted all his social media accounts without telling anyone while, in reality, tittering gleefully in his apartment, poring over some old tomes. He only ever invited me over during the last two weeks. It was honestly just like before.
The only difference was that you basically had to remind him that you were sitting/standing right there because of his apparent absorption into his “project”, whatever that was. He also muttered something about an invisibility ward, at which point I would feel pressured by some amorphous sense of decency to remind him that no, he hadn’t pulled a Bilbo Baggins… He was hiding in plain sight. Then I’d get kicked out for reminding him of reality.
But yes, he had simply vanished, it seems. Or at least become a recluse to all but his inner circle.
Until the night where the whole neighborhood gathered under an unusually hot and humid, night with a fair bit of lightning going on (I think it was sometime in June, but I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember) to watch the apotheosis of a man’s descent into insanity.
Pogs had rigged the balcony entrance so nobody could follow him. He strapped his right hand to a tv antennae.
The firemen moved the cherry picker up to the top of the building, but, they kept apologizing, there was too much interference from the storm and too much hostility from Pogs (known throughout Brooklyn for his shenanigans). He was throwing bottles and laughing. Eventually, he started screaming rhythmically either in a language we did not understand, or in some occult mumbo jumbo.
Then, lightning struck him as he held the arm with the antennae aloft. His eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped down and fell on his face. It was then I came out of my rather grim nostalgia trip and grabbed the tray from Louis and washed out the pipe and the residue from the plate down into the building’s probably still lead pipes.
“Asshole,” Louis muttered. “You told Chery we were going to help her with some seasonal cleaning. It’s her apartment now, we shouldn’t even be here.”
”Yeah, well… you’re right, I suppose,” I said, “everyone knows what happened. I would just like to know why.”
“Your boy Pogs flipped his lid, that’s what happened,” said Louis. “why, who knows.” Louie opened up the cabinet beneath the lamp and a thousand pogs wrapped in opaque plastic, in hard pencil holders, and in shoe boxes.
I dropped the pipe and pan in the sink from the sound.
Louis tiptoed over to the faucet and produced a bubble pipe, which he filled promptly. He had the feline look of a man who had just solved a difficult riddle with minimal effort.
To top it off, an oversized Christmas tin slid out from on top of the mess. It hit my foot, and a careful prod with my shoe revealed enough powder to kill an 80’s hair band in their prime. A few straight razors were casually strewn and stuck out of the white stuff here and there.
“No,I guess I don’t know why Pogs lost his mind,” said Louis. “But right now, his excessive love of the pogs game and coke are looking like prime suspects to me.”
He blew some bubbles in my face.
“You’ve been waiting to do that all day, huh Louie?”
“I’ve been preparing to do it my whole life,” he said confidently. He blew copious amounts of bubbles in my face before I slammed the plastic pipe down on the kitchen counter.
“Enough,” I said. “If you don’t want to look, I’ll finish alone,” I said through gritted teeth.
“You know Ben, you can be a real pain,” Louie said.
I shrugged as he took his black leather coat off the rack and, flashing a peace sign, slammed the door behind him.
It was then that I slammed my boot into the bottom of the sink. Three things happened at once.
The nozzle of the sink sprayed hot water in my face, which was harmless, but still managed to set me
bumbling blindly down the hall, where I stepped onto Louie’s skateboard (he must have left it there). I was then (thirdly) catapulted headfirst into the brass shirt rack in the closet which had been left open. I came to just in time to see the shirt rack and the closet nook where we had been looking before (really an overloaded plank of wood painted the color of the inner closet and balanced pitifully on either side) collapse in the middle, in turn collapsing the fifty pounds or so of motheaten hipster wear.
As these things go, I only got out a muffled “No!” before being buried in pants, flannel shirts, and undergarments. I swam upward toward the light, casting off a painfully studded jacket that must’ve been left over from Chery’s teens. As if an afterthought, something small and sharp cornered landed squarely on my head.
I was in the midst of examining the treasure—an ornate box—when I realized a shape was blocking the light.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” said a tense voice.
“Chery! You’re back? I mean…of course you are back.” I realized I had some of her swimwear wrapped around my head. “I can explain.” I said, pointing to the box.
Quick as thought, she grabbed the brass pole, slid it off the hangers.
“Special delivery.” She said, and commenced to beat me with alarming ferocity. I managed to get to the front door with the box, slam it shut, and sat there breathing a few seconds before reasoning that I aught to haul ass out of there before she calls the police.
When I got home I set the box down and took a look at it. It measured four by eight by four inches deep. My being walloped in the head with it which was more a question of mass times acceleration. It wasn’t very heavy.
It was, in a word, ornate. There was gold leaf beaten over brass or perhaps something more desirable- what, I don’t know, I’m a key maker and not an artificer, only on the dungeons and dragons mat when I convinced my Dungeon Master to let me build a watchmakers studio.
Anyway… I didn’t know but I could guess. It looked like it was at least a hundred years old with the wear and tear, and from the chiseled and fading artwork on the cover, from somewhere in Spain.
There were three ships sailing into not the sunset, but the Morning Star. The ornately rendered crew were skeletons, and their captain wore a black cap and brandished a crude saber.
Twin volcanoes marked the point where the top of the box had been seared for the purpose of embossing an unfriendly looking half-lidded eye symbol, all in gold. I covetously passed my hand over the symbol. An electric cold ran through my extremities, through my teeth, which chattered.
I sneezed and my face went numb for a spell. I no longer wanted to open the box, but I still wanted to know what it was.
Grabbing a tissue box from my modest workbench, I resolved to call Alice. I grabbed the box and my dilapidated laptop and headed for the kitchen, setting up a skype call.