Lorong 16

Carlyn lit the blowtorch.    Tango delicately lowered his body so he could stare deeper into the rat’s eyes. The rat smelled Tango's breath and immediately pulled its head back and flattened its body against the bottom of the cage. It couldn’t move back any further. Tango’s nose almost touched the slowly frantic whiskers. The rat started shivering. The cookie pan was ready. Carlyn stepped back. The rat’s tail had been moving back and forth wildly. Now it stopped. Carlyn remembered when that rat was born, when it was pink and blind. Tango opened the cage and she closed her eyes, waiting.  Click, click, click,click.  Then, the red hot corner of the cookie pan and the very brief little sizzling sounds. Calmly, Tango picked up the newspaper and walked towards the door that led to outside. Mad Dog held it open and Tango lobbed the rat in front of the window.  ”Now!” said the girl in the white dress, the moment the rat’s body hit the ground..  Tango went into the greeting room and stood next to Douglas. The rat had quickly regained consciousness. Now it was letting out long screams, gasping for air and trying to run on its pawless legs.It didn’t go far. It became still.  ”Now!” the girl in the white dress said again.  The girl watching the clock said “Forty five seconds”.  “I win!” said the girl in the green sequinned dress happily, “I bet forty-eight! I win again!” The other girls grumbled in Cantonese and looked ready to kill her.Rizal trotted in, immediately disappointed that he’d missed his chance.  “The Hold’s getting stronger,” Tango said, understating the obvious.”Yesterday was a minute fifteen.” Douglas turned and walked away. Tango and the girls watched as Carlyn ran out, grabbed the dead rat by the tail and dashed back in,holding her breath the entire time.    Tango and Rizal had been talking as they walked from the greeting room to Tango’s office.Now, in the doorway to Tango’s office, Rizal stopped. Douglas was inside, sitting behind the coffee table topped with two glasses, a bucket of ice and an almost empty bottle of Glenmorangie. Rizal had been talking about getting more plants from a grower in Malaysia, one up in the Highlands.”Just need a car and a couple of masks for two days… Four hundred dollars should do it.”  “I’ll think about it.”  “Sure, boss.I’m ready any time, but the sooner the better. Safer that way.”  Tango closed the door and sat back down. Douglas took care of Tango’s drink.  The silence between them was comfortable,as it always was. Sometimes,though, they had music.They listened to the vinyl LPs Douglas had brought over with his treasured record player. The two had memorized and discussed LPs by Fritz Kreisler, Jelly Roll Morton, The Replacements,Dick Lee,Frank Sinatra and Helen Reddy. They debated Hendrix vs. Prince vs Tommy Emmanuel and complained about the Cantopop the girls listened to.Douglas taught Tango some simple blues riffs on the piano.Once in a while Douglas played and Tango sang. Always they ended with Love and Happiness by Al Green.  Finally, Douglas leaned forward.  “Just a coincidence... best plants are at a nursery up near the casino…”  “Probably. Another coincidence... Rizal needs 400 bucks and a cash advance.”  Douglas looked around the room, then looked through the one way mirror to the greeting room.There the wall behind the couch was completely covered by greenery. “Rizal really does know how to take care of  plants. I wasn’t happy to let him go.”  “Your loss, my gain. He replaced the rotten wood on the windows. Sealed  ‘perfectly. Took care of that fan. Haven’t had a blackout since he started.I think he’s changed...” Tango took off his jacket, went over and carefully hung it in the flimsy Ikea closet.“...but if he hasn’t, outside he goes. If he’s lucky, he’s lucky. But if The Hold’s like it is today, he’s got twenty seconds to make it to McDonalds.“If they’re open...”  “...and if he’s got money for the guard.”  Douglas was leaving in four days, moving to the mountains near Yogyakarta. The two met the day Tango moved in. The Hold didn’t have a name then.    The first deaths occurred on a cruise ship, the night before it was supposed to dock in Singapore. Only two thousand passengers died. The Straits Times said the deaths were caused by Indonesians burning poisonous plants as they cleared the last remaining jungles for palm oil plantations. Then, two days later, a wave of death struck from Tanjong Pagar and Sentosa to the oil refineries in Jurong and beyond, up into Malaysia: ten thousand people. Scientists then said that global warming and air pollution were interacting to create “super blankets” of carbon dioxide. People could not escape Singapore fast enough. Within a week, the unexplainable asphyxiations--similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, had filled the  Central Business District and the surrounding areas with corpses.The homeless camped in the MRT stations, gathered on Mount Faber and in the inner parts of the heartlands. The world listened as scientists explained why this disaster was uniquely Singaporean. Then, the same catastrophe occurred in Houston. Then Amsterdam. Then New York. Yokohama, Shanghai and Long Beach. Millions of people poisoned by breathing in fatal amounts of carbon dioxide. Within three years most of the world’s coastlines were graveyards,all deathly still because of something like Crib Death. The Apocalypse was started by carbon monoxide poisoning, the coastal lungs of the planet unable to refill themselves with oxygen, with Life. Almost no one knows why this happened. There’s a knock on the door. Before Tango can reply, Wendy pokes her head in. “Papa, the American! She cut her wrist again!”  Tango looks at Douglas, rolls his eyes and empties his drink. ”And you think my life is nothing but looking angry and orchestrating orgies of mass destruction,” He puts his glass down with a surprising softness and rolls his office chair back, ”well…it aint.”     Wendy steps back. “Room 12, Papa. Rei found her.”   Without speaking, they rush upstairs, down the hall, towards the red light above Room 12. To be continued

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