Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The setting sun cast a red-orange glow through the large acrylic glass screen windows of Rinaldi's Traditional Italian Cuisine: Restaurant and Wine Bar. Dr. Alessio Raimondi manipulated the crystal wine glass with his thumb and index finger, the late 20th Century Chianti caressing the inside of the antique glass as he did so, thick and syrupy and blood red. His deep brown eyes sparkled in the UV-sensitive mood lighting, glazed and relaxed there, set back in their slightly age-creased casings and fixed longingly at the blonde-haired female figure sat opposite him. So full of wisdom were those eyes, and yet not so wise as to catch sight of his fast approaching fate.
She gazed back, lips naturally pouted and curved up at the edges into something hinting at a smile. Hair short, razored and shooting around, and encasing that perfect face like a halo. Raimondi was amazed by her hair, sitting perfectly and yet at the same time tearing all about the place. It ought to look disheveled, untidy he thought, but somehow it didn't.
And those eyes. Ah, those eyes. As Raimondi looked at her now, relaxed, intoxicated, her eyes looked even more hypnotic than usual. They were all-consuming, sucking you in and shutting out the world as you became lost, drowned in there. Raimondi found himself becoming lost there now,
in those slightly squinted yet still massive eyes. What was there to find of this spellbinding woman? She was a mystery. He'd known her for such a short period of time, but then that just added further to the appeal. For fuck’s sake - he didn't even know her name! What did those eyes conceal? What depths of wonder awaited in those pools?
Dr. Alessio Raimondi would be dead in exactly 24 minutes.
She knew, though her eyes would never tell it. Her head slanted slightly to the right, lips curving further into a broad smile, yet still with that natural pout, teeth still concealed. Her right hand reached forward to touch Raimondi's, her index finger stroking his hand, along with the various sparkling golden rings that adorned it. Her hand was bare and pale, yet perfectly formed and proportioned, and smooth as silk to the touch. It created a stark contrast there next to the deeply tanned and hair covered hand of the Doctor. Raimondi's whole body tingled at this rare moment of physical contact. The old stirrings were there as so many times in the past. They were there for the last time.
The sun dropped still further outside, disappearing from view for the people up there, down and out of sight of the inhabitants of the huge plate of concrete and metal. In a couple of minutes, the sun's twilight rays would penetrate vertically through the huge screens that usually served as the underside's only link to ‘natural’ light, and for a rare, precious few minutes, the insects that clung to that great stone's underbelly would be illuminated more brightly than those lucky enough to inhabit the world above.
As the white lighting pinked on around the grounds surrounding the restaurant, Dr. Alessio Raimondi could be seen at a window table, making small talk with his dining partner. He commented, no doubt, on the beauty he saw in her eyes; complained, perhaps, about time it was taking old Rinaldi to bring out the main courses; commented, possibly, on the taste and texture of the wine. She smiled and hung her head and kept her eyes fixed on his. She wore that look of playful, schoolgirl innocence that only attractive girls could pull off, and only truly beautiful girls could perfect.
Between teasing looks and obedient nods, she turned her head and cast her eyes through the window, and for a split second glanced out into the grounds and wondered where he was. She knew that he could see her. Of that she could always be sure.
The main courses arrived, along with words of apology from the mustachioed waiter and a mumbling of the mandatory “Buono appetit Dottore!” It had indeed taken a while for the food to arrive, and it wasn't as though Raimondi had time to play with. Just 16 minutes now. But then he wasn't to know. She knew.
The vertical shafts of sunlight were visible now through the foliage outside, casting long rays upwards and outwards and sending long, contradictory shadows sprawling through the grounds and along the path to the restaurant as it filtered with the street light. Raimondi looked out on all of this in the usual, passive way that human beings do view their surroundings. Would he regret this when he arrived at wherever it was that he was going? Would he then wish he'd marveled at this merging of nature and the technology of Man? Would he wish he'd really chewed his Cannelloni, let his wine rest and swill in his mouth for that little while longer before swallowing, told this perfect specimen before him how he really felt instead of hiding behind his ego as he always did with women. With everyone.
No matter. He didn't know. He thought his time with her was just beginning. He couldn't know. Very few people did. She did, but there was no danger of her telling him, no danger of her nerve not holding out. After all, She was perfect.
Three thousand feet below, the underclasses basked in the glow of the true sunset. They busied about in the eerie radiance, persecuted, downcast, broke. Morton Street's flickering electronic signs, advertising hoardings and SCAPE screens paled in the bright light whilst the urchins that walked its blackened, steaming sidewalks shouted and laughed and shielded their eyes from the most impressive sight of their day. They were not interested. They were far more concerned with getting their hits and their booze and escaping to welcomed oblivion while a cranked up sound system drowned out the coughs that carried thick in the smog.
A car illegally jumped off as it reached the corner and noisily sped into the heart of the city in a plume of smoke and dust. And there on the corner of BJ's XXX Novelty Items and Music Store I stood, or rather leaned, eyes stinging from the smoke, smoke hanging from the corner of my mouth, head heavy from alcohol consumption and the various other impurities harboured there.
I turned my attention to the sight through the small, cracked window just to my right. A kid, twelve, thirteen years old, lying on a beat up old sofa on the side of a tattered pool table, limbs limp, head rolling slowly from side to side, saliva running down his cheeks. He wore on his face small pair of goggles, bright pink and purple in colour. An early version of the technology I had helped design and bring to mass market production. The world inside those bright, innocent looking goggles was a totally immersive, completely believable alternative environment. An environment in which this child could now be experiencing anything from extreme violence to kinky sex acts to hardcore drug use. Fucked up shit. And I knew I had to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for having put him there. Me, my former colleagues, and the piss ant politicians who abused the technology as much as anyone.
I knew that Dr. Alessio Raimondi now had 7 minutes to live. I knew, and so did they.
All human beings are control freaks, I thought to myself as I took another long drag of my cigarette. It's a matter of fact. We all like to think that we are in control of our lives. After
all, we can do what we want at any given time, can't we? I could strip naked right now and run down the street singing loudly, genitalia slapping from thigh to thigh as I went on my merry way. Sure, I’d probably have been shot or punched to the ground by a gang of bikers by the time I'd gotten to the Oriental Kitchen: Authentic Chinese Takeaway, but the point is I could do it. Human beings have their own independent thought processes, their own urges, their own ideas, their own emotions. Wasn’t that what made them human?
2 minutes. Poor bastard. Or 'lucky bastard' if you wanted to be fashionably cynical.
But that's only half the story. What about the forgotten abilities of Humankind? Telekinesis, psysight, chi energy, faith healing, past lives, communicating with the fucking dead - the list goes on. What’s up déjà vu? Is there a God? And why am I always feeling like I'm being watched? Because I am...
In a matter of seconds Dr. Alessio Raimondi will be dead.
And I can see him now in his final moments. He smiles as the waiter takes away the dishes, the Doctor's meal polished off completely, hers barely touched. He wipes his face with his burgundy, gold-trimmed napkin and smiles at the sight of her in all her unflustered glory. I mean, I can't see him, but I can just see him. But nobody will see him.
A dream can be so real, so vivid and detailed as we dream it, but when we wake we are left with the vaguest of memories of what it was about. Different dreams become muddled and confused, and the faces we saw so clearly there, and the conversations we so intricately crafted, are numbed and distanced and are soon cast into the forgotten, only to be recalled in a flash sometime in the future when some stimulant in the real world; a word, a voice, a smell, triggers that memory once again. But it will still be too numb to understand, too vague to fully recall and too distant to warrant prolonged attention.
This is what it would be like for the diners in Rinaldi's.
They may recall the slight breeze on their necks and the flickering of their candles as the restaurant door was opened. If it was opened.
Sometime the following week, the sound of a man's footsteps on a polished hardwood floor might trigger some distant recollection of the sound his boots made on the floor of the restaurant as he walked casually past the cloth-covered tables. If his footsteps made a sound.
A scene in a film or in a game might remind them of that gun, unsheathed and fired in one swift, unerring movement without him even breaking stride.
The sound they would not forget.
The near simultaneous unsilenced gunshot, explosion of skull and brains, and shower of cascading acrylic glass in the claustrophobic setting of this exclusive Italian eatery was too shocking a life experience to be dumped along with all the other shit in the 99 per cent of the brain set aside for garbage intake.
At least 30 per cent of Dr. Alessio Raimondi's garbage intake management system now lay set aside on the jutting edges of a shattered window, the rest leaking freely from a large exit wound on the right-hand side of his head, staining the cream tablecloth at a surprising rate of spread and mingling there with the more lethargic-moving, but similarly coloured stain of spilled Chianti. The diners would likely remember this image quite well too. Indeed, in their old age when they couldn't remember what they had for lunch yesterday, they would likely be able to describe this scene to their wide-eyed, junky ass grandchildren in immaculate detail.
They may also remember the piercing scream she gave as the doctor lay there messy and lifeless, but perhaps not the split-second knowing glance she shot the killer as he sheathed his gun, gave a wink and continued on casually past the tables and out into the encroaching night.
By the time the screams, cries and gnashing of teeth had abated in this unlikeliest of settings for a cold-blooded murder, she would be nowhere in sight and the very same middle-aged, lard ass businessmen who had ogled her all night would scarcely remember the colour of her hair, how old she might have been, or even what she was wearing.
Dr. Alessio Raimondi was dead.
But that’s only the start of it…