John T. Cullen's Metaphysical Fiction Gothic Noir etc

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= YANAPOP: Run For Your Life, a Love Story =

by John T. Cullen writing as John Argo


Part 3. Chloë Setreal

= 6. =

Southern California Gothic ModernChloë Setreal took his breath away when he first saw her. Martin still had a few copies of his resume in hand as he made his way through the throng. There it was: Table 39, Alienopolisís venue at the annual convention, cattle call, hiring spree, call it what you wish. He was supposed to meet this person—a Chloë Setreal—at this place and time.

All he saw was more books, more posters, more film clips flickering on wall displays, more clever blimps and dangling dominoes (almost like fuzzy dice in gang member cars), and of course eager, desperate job-seekers.

Table 39 was actually several folding tables end to end, with white tablecloths over them, and stacks of product. That included the latest action figures, because Alienopolis specialized in gaming and fantasy adventure books to match the games and their spinoffs. Martin had played the games online with his buddies and knew all of the leading characters from the upper-level game, called Empire of Time, on down to spun-off subworlds. All together, they styled it the Alienopolis World. Its capital was Meta4City, in which lived the Royalty of the Empire of Time, spanning billions of years and billions of light years of the cosmos—past, present, future, and Other. Mix together the atmosphere of Gotham, the heroics and fluttering capes of Super Guys, the Arthurian swords and plumed helmets of High Fantasy, the deep space sigh-fie of Galactic War Trek and Far Wreck. Add hot warrior chicks with bulging tits and rippling muscles, waving impossibly huge swords; brooding Gothic monks and nuns; throw in a half dozen other well-reviewed product ingredients—and you had the Alienopolis product line, or most of it. There was always something more.

Number 39 was the only table at the convention so utterly swarmed by people of all ages, seeking to be near their passion. At one end of the table stood several living, breathing action figures from the game, including King Hawfar, Queen Ginger Beer, Sir Laugh-a-Lot, the Duke of Url, the Dike of Holland, and Princess Krashdisk, among others who milled about outside a row of changing room dividers.

It took Martin a minute or so to realize that the divine being who stood at the other end of the table was not an action figure but an employee of Alienopolis. She was young, beautiful, and fresh. She was slim, with a belly at once flat yet soft, athletic and feminine, strong yet vulnerable. She stood with sandy-colored hands loosely interlocked over the midsection of her black dress, beaming at the passion and interest exhibited by swarming fans. Her name tag read Chloë.

She was The One. Martinís heart sank with melancholy, intoxicated with longing, drunk with the agonizing cross-pleasures of desire and denial. This was the girl you could not have. She was either married, or going steady, or there must be some other reason why—the timing was off, she thought you were too ugly or too broke or whatever. Martin usually did okay with women—notwithstanding his recent breakup in Berkeley—and there was always the next one. But then there was always that elusive movie-star level beyond which the average guy must not strive. This chick was in the stratosphere. He was already disappointed.

As he focused on her, Chloë Setreal became aware of his stare. Their gazes interlocked and became a single laser beam of concerted energy, enough to power an Empire of Time planet. They were transported to Meta4City, where (as the game slogans said) adventure lurked in the shadows, romance bloomed over moonlit deserts, and Knights of Good rode out to battle the Evils of Night.

She turned to him, with her hands still linked over her belly, and blinked maybe once or twice. "You must be Mr. Brown." Her voice had a rich, sweet musicality, like honey drizzling over cinnamon rolls, or whipped heavy cream snowing on juicy peaches.She wore her dark, lustrous brown hair in a page boy cut, like an athlete—parted over the top of a beautifully shaped head with a high, intelligent forehead and a sharply inked, proportionately small but perfectly chiseled lower face. Her skin was a shade between honey and caramel—Mediterranean meets Baltic, purr-meets-fection, and wow does that rock. Her attractiveness was a mix of beauty and handsome, with a strong little square chin, short bony jawline sloping inward, that ripe full ironic mouth, and a straight little airbrushed nose. Those eyebrows—they were like a thunderstorm of smarts and sarcasm, gathered over the blue skies of her eyes, ready to wrinkle at you if you said something dumb.

What is it about her? Martin could only stop in his tracks and stare. Were you allowed to speak with a person of such grace and perfection?

Her mouth formed a candy-apple red equal sign; no, actually, it was not an equal sign but one of those double (?) sorta-equal signs, a wry twist that layered a delicious mix of gamine and humor over her prettiness. Below that intelligent forehead, and below those large deeply azure-blue eyes, she was graced with a tapering lower face that imposed sharp, boyish lines on soft, feminine curves (just talking about her facial features, not even her body yet). She did not look at you so much as she lowered and aimed those eyebrows and that forehead at you, and looked into your soul with those San Diego sky eyes, perfect darkish blue without a cloud in them (unless your reflection in them was a puff of cloud).

Martinís eyes were so locked in on her features that he had to force himself to look down, up, down, and up again.

Chloë lowered her forehead at him, looked at him with those analytical, skeptical eyes, and managed a laugh. "Mr. Brown?"

She appeared as startled by him as he was by her. The eyebrows jumped slightly back, like cats that wanted to be petted, but were suddenly spooked. Theyíd come back to try again, no worry.

He joked, "I came to rescue you."

"Oh?" She laughed. "Someone sent you to rescue me?" When she laughed, her upper lip pulled back, revealing a butcher block of small, perfectly aligned, bluish-white teeth. Firm cheeks pulled up under small but solid cheekbones. She probably ran the mile in under {plug in a number, Martin thought} and was naturally competitive in track or fencing or who knows what. She was, in a word, imposing; a normal, thoughtful guy would think twice before risking his delicate ego on that cutting board. But she came across as kind and gentle, without high maintenance or complex emotional machinery. She handled herself like a Harley. When youíre that good, you donít need to huff or puff. You just ride. The highway will fall in line behind you. So it appeared to be with Chloë Setreal. "Do I need rescuing?"

"Of course. Thatís why they sent me."

"They?" She appeared relaxed and seemed to be enjoying herself, going along with the program.

"Maritza Dusenbery."

"Oh yes, they." She put her index finger over her lips. "She whose name must not be uttered."

"Thatís the one. She told me to give you this." He handed her a copy of his rťsumť.

Chloë took it, respectfully pretending to take him seriously, and glanced at the single page of print. "Great American Novel. Very impressive."

"It doesnít say that." He added, "yet."

"It will. Maritza called me and warned me that I would be rescued. She described you as a tall, dark, handsome man wearing a cape."

"Obviously, I came disguised."

"And very cleverly so, Mr. Brown."

"I am the mild-mannered reporter, Martin Brown, working for the Daily Surf & Turf."

"The what?"

"Secret spot in Pacific Beach. Steamers on the half shell, craft beer, you should try it some time."

"I might just do that one day, if the right person came to rescue me."

"I thought you were one of the actors."

"Now, Mr. Brown, do I look like a stand-in? Should I be upset?"

"Not at all. I took you for Queen Ginger Beer."

"You mean Guinevere."

"That one."

"Oh, Mr. Brown, I think we have much to talk about."

"I would agree. I must interrogate you properly over lunch. Do you take your carbs with cola or root beer?"

"Diet. Anything."

"Of course. The slender figure."

She stepped out from behind the table so that he could see her fully for the first time. He was in love. She was a combination of girl next door and rock star.

"I took you for one of the producers," she said.

They stood for a full minute, lost in each other, and admiring one another. Martin found her to be elegant, Continental, sophisticated, educated—yet relaxed, easy-going, generous with her manners and emotions. He wondered how he looked to her.

She told him, an hour later, over Japanese food at a little glass and steel ultra-modern place near the UCLA campus. Martin and Chloë sat side by side at a white bar overlooking three people in blue paper Samurai hats, who rolled fresh sushi by hand to order. They looked lost and anonymous amid reflections and glass surfaces in which their images did or did not appear. It was kind of cool, Martin thought, spotting himself alone in one window, her alone in another window, and both of them together in a third window—and nobody in yet a fourth window. Martin reflected on cosmological questions. Could you exist in all windows at the same time, or was each a life lived in a parallel universe without reference or indexing to the others?

Does a person not reflected in a window actually exist?

Outside, the Los Angeles planet atmosphere turned Jupiter with red and yellow stripes. The thick air seemed to be on fire, except it was a non-consuming, cool dream-fire. People and cars moved through the air outside as if through soup and irony.

Inside, it was air conditioned and rather cold. Chloë had driven them here in her little older-model Volkswagen, which was white as snow, its taillights sprinkled with tiny flower motifs. She had donned a mossy-green, soft corduroy blazer that complimented her black dress in an odd way—just as boyish and girlish themes criss-crossed on the surface of her elegant, warm personality.

"You look very natural with your chopsticks," he said inside.

They sat so close they could murmur to each other.

"Pass the green mustard, please, Martin."

"How about some soy sauce for your Tuna Treasure?" It was a house theme, apparently, to create a game of Asian pirates, as in Tuna Treasure, Clam Chest, Sword Fish; what else? Martin flipped through the menu—Dessert Island—all so original, he thought sarcastically.

She choked back a quick laugh. "You have a way of saying things."

"I try to say things."

"You do," she said, caught in mid-mouthful. She was one of these people who wave their fingers over their mouth if they talk while eating—apparently, so you cannot see into their mouth, and get grossed out by rice and tuna and spit and seaweed (see weed?) going glop, glop on the personís tongue like icky paste. "I like it. You make everything sound sort of sarcastic and funny."

"It is my natural sense of tragedy, living with the inevitable but still hoping for the evitable, and settling for something edible like this incredible but ridiculous fish food."

"You are a riot," she said, bumping her shoulder against his as one could only do in a tiny restaurant where you sat closer than sardines in can. In a city where real estate was really pricey, that made a lot of sense. In laid back San Diego, it would raise eyebrows. She added, "itís nice that they donít just call it fish." She made a New York hoodlum voice and said, "Hey, youse getcha fish here on da dock. Bring yer own foahk or eat witcha hands. We donít give a shit."

It was Martinís turn to nearly choke. "You are an actress. I knew it."

"I lived in Noo-Yawk for a few yehyohs whilst I was porking moy core."

"Youíre too young to be Queen Gingivitis. Iíd say you are more like Princess Baby Teeth."

"Iím not that young, Martin. I am old enough to be your mother."

"Oh really. I am twenty-two. How old of a wizened old prune are you?"

"Twenty-three, Junior. Have some respect."

"I have respect. I am in awe."

"Aw, shucks. Awe what?"

"I am just—how do I say?"

"Je ne sais pas. Je ne sais quoi." I donít know. I donít know what. She made a groping motion in mid-air with one hand, as if looking for the elusive whatsis she could not quite put her finger on.

Jawohl, Schatzi, und heute ist Samstag, so mŁssen wir den Rasen mšhen. "Yes, Sweetie, and today is Saturday, so we have to mow the lawn." Textbook German like you study in high school. He had spent some time in Germany, and spoke the language fairly fluently, so the textbook speech was a put-on. She got the joke, looking totally comfortable and unintimidated.

"Vous Ítes quoi? Fou?" You are what? Nuts?

"Ich bin ganz nŁchtern and schŁchtern." I am very sober and shy.

"I love when you talk dirty to me."

"Thatís not dirty, itís Deutsch."

"Jahha-ha," she drawled. "You love to rhyme things."

He put his hand on her back and was pleased that she pressed back with a surprisingly delicate little shoulder blade under that thin, dark corduroy material. She was strong and wiry to the touch, yet feminine and adorable.

"I was saying, ma chŤreÖ"

"So you do speak French," she said feigning playful outrage, "and you understood all the provocative things I said about you."

He made a passionate, adoring face, tilting his head to one side. "I loved every one of your charming, intimate little syllables. Please, tell me more thingsÖ"

She placed a chopstick pinch of California roll over those red lip slivers masking a lush, full mouth. Up came the shielding fingers. "You want me to tell you a story?"

"Yes. The three bears."

"Maybe later, if you are nice and take me for a walk."

Her eyes twinkled as she ate. Pause repartť, they silently agreed.

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