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H is for Hell

CHAPTER ONE

The box sits on the table next to a drink the color of antifreeze. Probably absinthe. Gleaming, glinting gold, it is. The box, not the drink. I just said the drink was green. Pay attention. It is unbearably hot in the shop. Outside the window the scene is busy with shoppers and businessmen on their way to somewhere that was not here. Probably some place they could score hookers or drugs. Or both. It is unclear what country they are in, since some of those outside the window look Chinese or Japanese, and some of the darker ones are wearing turbans. What? Oh. It’s Morocco.
“What’s your pleasure, Mr. Cotton?” says the Chinese shop owner at the table.
“Haha,” Frank says, squinting his eyes until they are tight slits. “Wass yowa presha missa cotton? Haha. I yike some-a pawk fly lice.”
“Excuse me, mister,” says the Chinese man. “This is not a food restaurant.”
“Haha,” Frank says. “Diss a no foo lestawant. Haha.”
“Are you going to make fun of my accent all day, Mr. Cotton? Or are we going to get down to business?”
“Jeez, take it easy. Gosh, you’re no fun. How about this here box? I mean, it’s here, on the table.. Obviously you want to sell it to me or something. What’s the deal?”
“Ahh, this is a very special Chinese box. Full of secrets. Takes years to master how to open,” says the Chinaman, then whispers: “You put your weed in here.”
“Hmm. Interesting.” Frank plays dumb. He knows what the box does, and it is certainly more than a marijuana hidey-hole. He slams a wad of Ulysses S. Grants on the table, his fingers oddly dripping with sweat, nails caked with dirt. He could have at least taken a run under them with the crud remover on his nail clipper. A fleck of mud falls from his index finger and onto Grant’s upper lip, forming an interesting mustache. Grant was a throwaway president that no one remembers, which is why his visage is plastered on a denomination that no one uses.
The Chinese man knows all about U.S.G., as well as dirty fingernails, and it is making him nauseous. He puts a sugar cube in his absinthe, which is now for some reason no longer green. Perhaps I am wrong about it being absinthe. Maybe it’s tea. His own fingernails aren’t so much dirty as they are purple and bruised. If you thought it was impossible to bruise a fingernail, you’re obviously wrong.
Frank’s dirty fingers slam down again on the stack of fifties and push them over toward the shop owner.
“Take it,” he tells Frank, without bothering to count the money. “It’s yours. It always was.”
Frank grabs the box, and stands to leave. “Then why did I just pay you for it?” he asks. “Have a sweaty day,” he tells the shop keeper as he leaves the store.