Fiction: Agent Marklein Sings the Blues
By Scott Mitchel May
Langley, Virginia - Office of the Director of the CIA
They largely regarded them as the nameless, or the faceless, or the workaday what whom goes about their business — hour commute each way, eight hours work, home in time for supper, life, free-weights in the basement (maybe) — and Company Men (like them) knew that poor civilians had no idea what goes on in rooms like these, and for how many years it takes to make something of real importance happen, to make something paradigm disrupting happen — no friggin clue. The room itself is nondescript, it has wood-paneled walls, it has a tattered American flag of some kind of historic significance hanging behind a stately desk, it has blue-grey carpeting, and it has a window with curtains which are perpetually drawn (an old habit for all Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency). The room is swept daily for bugs. The desk in the room is small but significant and it is of richly polished wood and the two chairs that face The Director are of the same wood but they have surprisingly comfortable back and ass cushions. The Director himself is a clean-cut man of fifty-something. All Company Men are clean-cut men of a post-thirty-something age. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between. Agent Dwight Marklein is thirty-one.
Agent Marklein sits in his cushioned seat, next to another Agent, and The Director has been staring at him with a blank intensity that could only mean The Director was in an attempt. That stare, that blank look of unconcentrated energy, it was the indicator that The Director was trying very, very hard to communicate something non-verbally — to make the Agents understand his intent and his meaning without making any sounds with his mouth. The eyes of The Director stared without seeing, and were unblinking on the subject, in this case, in particular, Agent Dwight Marklein. The Director engages in regular attempts of telepathic communication with his Agents. It is also possible that The Director was attempting to engage in astral projection. When The Director stares with such blank intensity and is unfocused with such ferocity it is next to impossible to break him of his trance-like state. When Agents are called into his office, and he goes into these staring-fits, it is generally assumed that the Agent is either there to receive a thought-message or become witness to a soul-travel event. For the most part, until The Director himself broke the trance, it is impossible to tell which.
Agent Marklein could see The Director’s forehead begin to redden, flushing with the blood of supremely unconcentrated thought (it took The Director’s entire being to not focus with such heat), and the vein there began to bulge. He’s thinking thoughts at me, thought Agent Marklein. What thoughts? What concepts? What topics? What generalities? Once an Agent deduces the psychic event taking place, that Agent can ingratiate themselves to The Director by playing along, pretending to receive some message, or correctly going slack of jaw and awe-inspired at the exact moment The Director’s soul left for Branson, Missouri, or some other such.
Agent Marklein smelled at his fingers, and the scent of Diamond Greenlight Strike Anywhere Safety Matches clung to the tips. The smell was a sulfidic smell and brought with it pleasure, and a blood rush all of his own, and deep-seated memories of a past, long dealt with and placed in cold-storage for safe-keeping and maximum freshness. The Director’s eyes rolled and lolled pornographic in his head (the event’s beginning), a moaning sound came from somewhere deep in his throat, and a drop of spittle crept from the corner of his mouth, hung with uncertainty, and then strung loose, rolling down and then dangling beneath his jowly, double chin. Marklein half-watched him, and unconcentrated harder on his own memory, continuously sniffing at his fingertips, re-upping the smell of the matches in his nostrils.
The room left them both behind, the other Agent stayed put in his chair, this trip did not concern him, and he picked lazily and wholly unaware at the bottom of his slick, and shiny black leather shoe on his left foot, which was draped over his right thigh. Nothing to the other Agent seemed amiss. The Director’s eyes rolled further back and Marklein’s own met him there.
A crusted yellow sock lay abandoned on the dusty wooden floor of a farmhouse circa 1897 in the asshole of America’s Dairy Land. Amery, Wisconsin was the closest town; the Director knew that. The farmhouse was in Marklein’s file; the sock was not. A boy, aged twelve, sat naked from the waist and Indian style on the floor — his hair, a bowl-cutted mess of cowlicks, grease, and general neglect. The boy untucks one leg out from under the other, toed at the sock, gripping it, eventually, and pulls it to him, then grabs it with his right hand, as his left hand flips the pages of a decades-old, pornographic magazine. Marklein and The Director can see that the page the boy has stopped on depicts a rather large woman, bent over at the waist, bottom spread for the camera — everything visible. The boy sheaths his still flaccid penis in the sock and The Director and Marklein both feel the scratchy, dried-semen roughness. The boy flips the page. The large woman is still bent at the waist, bottom still spread for the camera, but she is now in sexual congress with a man. The boy masturbates with the rough sock; it chafes his penis a little; The Director and Marklein feel this too.
A creek of a floorboard is heard, and the steps of a woman can be felt by them both, but not by the boy with his sock. His back is to the door. The woman who enters the room wears a pale blue dress, is pencil-thin, has stringy black hair, and the white apron she’s tied around her waist is spattered with milk and butter and flour — the mixture looks pale yellow in this light. Her mouth is moving fast, but The Director and Marklein hear no words because that isn’t what this is about — not yet. Her hand is grabbing at the sock, trying to pull it off, she grabs and yanks the penis of the boy with force. The boy is lifted from his sitting position and flung face down on the floor. The thin woman goes to work on the back of the boy’s legs, buttocks, and head with a wooden cooking spoon she is carrying. The head of which leaves egg-shaped white flour marks all over the boy’s body. When he washes later, the marks will be red. The Director can feel that.
The Director and Marklein can hear now. “Filthy, filthy, filthy, filthy,” the woman says calmly with each successive whap of the spoon. “Filthy little fucker,” she finishes. The boy’s penis hurts. The Director and Marklein feel.
In the office of The Director, the other Agent is still sitting, slouched and disinterested. Marklein is next to him, arms down slack at his side, face rigid and fixed, anger flashed unfocused eyes, but otherwise emotionless. The Director’s eyes have yet to come back forward; he’s still there. Where? It’s unclear. The drop of spittle has fallen and landed on The Director’s tented fingers which are held just below the tip of his chin. The Director’s elbows rest on his desk. His head is still faced arrow-straight in the direction of Marklein. The other Agent breaths heavy, impatient breaths, he wants desperately to leave this room, that can be felt on the air. Another droplet of spittle forms at the corner of The Director’s mouth. His eyes snap forward in his head and catch Marklein’s own cold, grey, and unfocused gaze. The Director quickly slurps the spittle back into his mouth with a sick, wet, sucking sound that is just a few PSI more aggressive than is absolutely necessary. The other Agent coughs, but not really, he just clears his throat but he disguises it as a true-blue-all-American-boy cough, the midwestern kind, meant to get attention and break the tension that has built from too much silence, too much contemplative white noise, too much not enough. The Director shoots the other Agent a look that communicates something fundamental, something universal, and something that, to The Director, is very important the other Agent understand, and then he fixes his eyes back on Agent Dwight Marklein.
“You were somewhere.” Marklein states this as a fact, not up for discussion, or debate, or question, “you saw something.”
“It was the feeling of a place, an idea outside of time, I suppose… it was a raw emotive sand-blast.” The Director un-tents his fingers and lays his hands flat on the blotter in front of him and rubs it with his palms, feeling the surface lightly, tickling the nerve endings there, sparking an annoyance that he feels in the very back of the inside of his skull.
“Telekinetic hate,” the other Agent says, a smug smile spreading across his face, “you were projecting a kind of ominous feeling of the doomy-gloomies, attempting to infect the space with dread and disquiet. The point is to gain leverage on those with which you are meeting, turn negotiations to your favor, gaining the upper hand in geopolitical wheelings and dealings. Agent Marklein seemed so affected, anyway.”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP GREG!” The Director’s face twisted and contorted with red rage as he pointed his fat index finger at the other Agent. The Director’s face was the face of a man on the verge of an anomalous epiphany that was rudely interrupted by the inept try-harding of a lesser intellect right at the crucial moment. Teeth were borne and spittle flew in the direction of the other Agent and hot, heavy, and jagged breaths heaved from the depths of The Director’s barrel chest made their way across the richly stained desk and found their destination, breaking against the other Agent’s obviously well-loved face. The puffing continued for minutes uncountable, unknowable, and no one made a noise, no one made a move to break the building tension. The Director, Agent Marklein, and the other Agent, they all sat in it, fixed and still, letting the anger stretch and thin until it could be stepped over and past with ease.
“You were somewhere,” repeated Marklein. It wasn’t a statement of fact, now, it was an accusation. Agent Marklein’s face was still a mask of placid calm, a gear-shift set to neutral, then broken from the box. The Director, the other Agent, and Marklein let the words hang and float, their echo playing over, and over, and over in their ears, fading, going translucent in what mid-afternoon sun defused through the drawn shades.
“I went somewhere, and I felt something, and I saw a clear history that was either real or projected at me so as to seem real, to tell me a story, to elicit from me a sympathy, maybe. A story purposefully transmitted, through space, and through time, for reasons I don’t know and don’t want to know.” The Director leaned back from the desk, kicked his own highly-polished shoes off, and then placed his socked feet on the blotter of his desk. He rubbed the palms of his hands on his cheeks, then he motioned in the general direction of the other Agent, then to the door. The other Agent made none of the sounds one typically associates with rejection, no sighs of annoyance, no herumph, he rose purposefully, turned on his heel, and left without another word.
Marklein and The Director sat in their silence for what could’ve been more than an hour — it was becoming hard for either of them to tell. The Director’s feet came down and the fixed stare and the hand tenting under the chin returned. The feeling of words unspoken between the men came in uncontrolled waves of tension and of anxiety and of a stomach knotting and of bowel clenching and of hopeless woe. Small fragments of the whole; incomplete and randomized; nothing definite; nothing coming as intended; The Director wasn’t trying with all that he had. It was apparent The Director was not itching to go back to where he had just come from, not just yet, maybe never. But here they were, and really, whaddaya gonna do once you start down that road? Turn back? Not once you’ve come this far. Only one thing to do.
The last word Marklein could feel coming from The Director was the word, “Dead,” with an upturned inflection at the end, so the word was actually, “Dead?”
He could guess the beginning of the question.
Agent Marklein tented his own fingers underneath his chin, then lifted the tips again to his nose, and again inhaled the scent of the Diamond Greenlight Strike Anywhere Safety Matches.
The woman lay restrained on a hospital bed in the cheap, month-to-month Virginia apartment of Agent Marklein. She is wakefully unconscious, vegetative, and the same mid-afternoon sun that filtered into The Director’s office blazed through the apartment window, and it had climbed to the woman’s belly by this point in the afternoon, and it would threaten her face before long. The sepia-tone view both men are sharing is from an empty armchair in the corner, they see an ashtray overflowing with butts and a box of Diamond Greenlight Strike Anywhere Safety Matches on a side table. The woman’s muscles tense and go slack in an irregular pattern causing her limbs to jar and strain against the soft straps that hold them in place. The view stood up from the armchair and walked to the foot of the bed. The view then looked at match-shaped scorch marks on the woman’s white blanket, none of which had made it through the fabric, because that was not the intention, then at the burnt matches that missed littering the floor around the hospital bed, then at the woman’s face and stringy hair, then again at the floor. Then the view looked harsh and with malice back into the slack face of The Director, and The Director saw himself, drool-chinned and staring — tattered American flag of unknown historical significance hanging behind him.
The Director, scared, forced his eyes back to the front of his head, and he sucked the string of spittle that dangled dangerously from his lip back into his mouth, and he regained his focus, his own consciousness, but it was only two empty chairs at which he found himself staring with intent to do harm and anger and the serious want to visit violence upon the world.
Scott Mitchel May is an author living with his wife and son in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, The Bear Creek Gazette, The Maryland Literary Review, Bending Genres, and many others. He was the winner of the 2019 Poem or Page Contest at the UW Writers' Conference in the category of Literary Fiction and has been shortlisted for the 2022 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards. His debut collection of short fiction, DeKalb, Illinois is a Paradise What Eats its Own, was published by Alien Buddha in 2022. Scott holds a GED from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and a BS in Literature from Edgewood College. He is a former legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Senate and currently works for the Only in Wisconsin Giving Foundation.
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