“What did you say you do?”
I was standing at a bar, the one that always and only appears in my dreams. Beside me was a big guy, in a black shirt and black jeans.
“I’m the State Molester,” he repeated and grinned, looking at himself in the bar mirror. Downed his drink.
“The State what?” I said, turning toward him.
“The State Molester!” the guy beyond him shouted. He was shorter, older, with a bandanna and bad teeth. Captain Hook’s Mr. Smee goes to Haight Ashbury. “Hey, Hilda, will ya turn that down! We can’t talk here!”
“What the hell’s a State Molester?” in my best one-of-the-boys voice. Little laugh in my throat.
“It’s like an executioner,” the man in black said, and looked at me. I wished he hadn’t. “You know, the guy who pulls the switch? Let’s say some scum-bag’s molesting children. Maybe we can’t find him. Maybe he kills himself doing it, doesn’t matter. Justice, you know?”
He stopped long enough to point to his glass and wait for the refill. Hilda was a little slow.
“So . . . ,” I said.
“So, I molest his children,” glass mid-way to lips. “Get ‘em good, too.”
My glass was frozen in my hand. Mr. Smee cackled. “You’ve heard of the Hang Man? He’s the Bang Man!”
“You’re kidding,” I gulped air a little.
“Whadda ya mean?” the big man said, and stopped drinking, turned full toward me. “He raped our kids. We rape his. It’s all they understand.”
“But they’re all kids!” I raised my voice in dream-daring. “Just kids!”
He shrugged, turned back toward the bar. “It’s a war out there. I do my job.” But he smiled a little.
“And it’s civil service!” laughed Smee, and clinked his glass with the Bang Man’s. The music got louder . . .
I woke up. I reached for the phone and called-in sick. Then went down to the corner for coffee and a paper. In the machine, the black headlines, “THOUSANDS OF AMERICAN LIVES!”
I put in my money. I grabbed every paper in the machine, plunked some bills on the counter. Did the same at the Little Mart. And at the train station, anywhere I could find.
Then I ran home. I cut the word “American” out of the front pages. Not that I didn’t like the word. No, I laid its letters reverently in rows on my bed like unfurled prayer flags. Cut other words out, too.
Then I went back to the coffee shop, to everywhere. Put my coins in the empty machines, returned all the papers. Now they just said, “LIVES!”