by Bill Kowaleski
Creative Destruction is a sequel to the novel Brighter Than the Stars, in which Earthlings meet technologically advanced space aliens. The Cygnians come only to do business, but their schemes to sell fusion-powered generators become contentious and competitive.
Many human and alien characters return from the previous novel, including Jim McDermott and his team, who try to reduce the risk of societal upheaval that the new technologies threaten. Meanwhile, many different groups are either plotting to steal the technical advances for their own purposes or trying to destroy it and drive the Cygnians off of Earth.
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 36: The Gun Show
By Saturday, Stonewall had completely transformed Maria. Aliens Out had made her financially comfortable, so she didn’t scrimp on new clothes, shoes, and accessories. And she made sure that her new friend Stonewall was well-compensated for his time. In fact, they’d spent a lot of time together, and she had to admit that he’d cheered her up... a lot.
The truth was that she hadn’t had so much fun with anyone in a very long time, maybe never. She loved his witty asides as they shopped, and she laughed at his fatalism: “C’est pas ma faute! I didn’t make this crazy fucked-up world. My parents just plopped me down right in the middle of it.” Maria even found his affected French entertaining.
In coffee shops along Michigan Avenue, he gently encouraged her to tell him most of her life history. Then he would compare it to his. And he didn’t hold back about his own life, one so outside her experience that it could well have been the life of a creature from another planet.
One thing she could say about Stonewall: he savored everything to the fullest: -sex, food, drugs, drink, while never really believing in anything except the essential goodness hiding in everyone. He lived in a world free of ideologies, free of politics, free of fear. There was a wonderful kindness about him, a total and unconditional acceptance of her, never judgmental, that amazed Maria.
She came to realize that what separated his life from hers, more than anything, was that she had lived her life in the abstract, for causes, for humanity, while he had lived a literal life full of actual, living people. She really knew nobody, had no real friends, while he knew everybody and numbered his friends in the hundreds. But he could help her there, too. He had offered to make some introductions for her: young men he said were “hot, hot hot” and bisexual; men who would appreciate her new look.
She had told him she had a Saturday interview, and he insisted on seeing her right before she left. Homme et Femme Moderne was quite busy that morning, but he made a regular customer wait while he spent ten minutes touching up her hair and makeup, and giving her words of encouragement.
“You look, formidable, Maria!” he gushed. “Don’t let anything stop you. You’ll look as good or better than anyone else they could be interviewing.”
Tears welled in her eyes. Just when she’d given up all hope in humanity, this unlikely ally had appeared. She leaned into his ear and whispered, “Thanks so much. You have no idea how much you’ve helped me.”
He glowed, patted her shoulder, and then, as she stood, grabbed her by the waist, hugged her fiercely, and gave her an enormous kiss on the lips. She staggered to the door, and as she steered her Toyota Yaris onto the Kennedy Expressway she thought, I guess it’s just my fate to fall in love with gay guys.
* * *
The gun show had been a further revelation. It was her first foray into the world with her new look, and the world had very much surprised her. Men smiled, struck up conversations, asked several times whether she was free for dinner. As she wandered the aisles, befuddled by terminology she’d never heard before, she felt growing doubt about her plan. Her new look seemed to have created new possibilities. It was just the opposite of what she’d always believed — that the advertisements about beauty products were a con, that the hair goop and makeup and fancy clothes changed nothing. But now she’d had the advantage of real life experience, and it certainly seemed that they had changed something.
Her confusion brought her to a complete stop in the middle of a busy aisle when a beefy middle-aged man in Wrangler jeans, a camouflage hunting vest, and Indiana Jones hat wrapped his huge arm around her waist and boomed, “You look lost, young lady. Would you like a guide through this place?”
“Well, I suppose I could use some help,” she stammered. “I want something for protection, you know, and I don’t know a thing—”
“Of course! I understand.”
His name was Dave — she didn’t catch his last name that day — something Germanic. He was from Ohio, liked this show because it featured certain weapons whose names she immediately forgot. Within fifteen minutes, she bought something at his suggestion. He told her it was accurate, didn’t kick too much and wouldn’t make too much noise. Just right for protecting a pretty young lady. She willingly paid his price for his services: lunch in the hotel dining room.
She insisted on buying, and he didn’t protest much. He was an easy guy to talk to: polite, and friendly. But she felt she had to make something clear even before the salads arrived.
“Look Dave, I appreciate your help,” she said. “But—”
“But I’m old enough to be your father,” he finished for her. “Sure, I understand. And I had no intention of coming on to you, but there’s nothing wrong with getting it out in the open.”
“Thanks, I appreciate your understanding.”
“Sure. So tell me, Maria, just why do you think you need protection now? Isn’t your new look enough to keep people from recognizing you?”
A wave of shock ran over her. “You mean you—”
“Oh, sure. One talent I’ve always had is facial recognition. It took me a few seconds, but then I placed you. And let me tell you something: I stand with Aliens Out one hundred percent. I’m so glad we’ve passed that law. Sooner or later we’d have been fighting them on every block, in every small town. They had to be stopped.”
“Thanks for keeping quiet on the show floor. I don’t want to be recognized.”
“No problem, and it was a pleasure to help you. But there’s one more service I need to provide.”
“You know how to use that thing you just bought?”
“Well, how hard can it be? You put some bullets in and pull...”
“No, no, no! You’ve got to learn how to shoot, proper safety measures, secure storage, all that stuff. Give me a couple hours this afternoon, and I’ll take you to a range. “
They didn’t part company until after five. She’d never known shooting a gun could be so involved. Dave taught her how to aim, how to keep her hands steady, how to fire from standing and crouching positions, how to reload quickly.
And while he did that, Dave told her a little about his life: the wife whose breast cancer had brought “the most beautiful marriage in the history of the world” to an early end; the machine shop he’d first managed, then purchased, then seen ravaged by cheap Chinese competition but that he triumphantly rescued with his own ingenuity. And he probed gently, getting her to open up about Miles’ betrayal, something that upset him greatly.
“I’m mighty glad he’s not here right now,” Dave said. “I just might break his face for what he did to you.”
“I just might do that myself,” she said.
Dave looked at the gun in her hand. “Bad as it was, Maria, don’t ever use that on him. I’d hate to think I was party to a murder, and it’s just wrong. A guy like that, he makes his own misery. Trust me, I’ve seen it a dozen times at least. You don’t need to punish him; he’ll punish himself.”
As she drove home, her new possession safely locked in the portable gun vault she’d purchased at the range, she considered her plan. Meeting Stonewall and Dave, two people whose only similarity was their kindness, felt like the lifting of a thick, heavy curtain. There was a whole world of people she had always dismissed as clueless, gullible, stupid sheep. But maybe some of them were worth getting to know.
Maybe some of those people, only a few surely, but more than enough to make her happy, could become friends, or more. She had exchanged email addresses with Dave and promised to stay in touch. That act, she realized, was an act of hope, an admission that her life wasn’t ending, that Miles was nothing worse than a bad case of the flu: miserable while it was happening, but strangely exhilarating when completely over.
* * *
Maria sat in her empty apartment, staring at an episode of Foyle’s War on her tiny television. She thought again about her plan. No, she wasn’t going to end her life for a scumbag like Miles. Stonewall was right: he wasn’t worth it. Dave was right: his conniving would be Miles’ undoing.
But she needed closure, and so she pictured a new scenario. She would surprise them in the early morning, while they were still in bed. She’d laugh at them, and she’d ask this Jason if he really wanted a boyfriend like Miles, someone capable of such deception, of so deliberately hurting someone. It would be satisfying, and she would be doing nothing criminal.
But she had to get there soon. She would leave tomorrow morning. As she sat, glowing with anticipation of her confrontation with Miles at his love nest in the West Virginia mountains, the prophecy of Dave from Ohio was about to come true.
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski