If you haven’t read any of this concept series, the beginning post from September 8th (the beginning) is here, September 9th is here.

Today’s post is below …

(We pick up where after Harry and Sled had just finished introductions in the Asylum and Crematoria cafeteria. Oh, and Sled smelled like vomit and Tic Tac…)

 _  . _  .  _  .  _

Harry reached into one of his pockets and pulled out something soft. He exposed the corner of silver foil for Sled. It was the end of the chocolate wrapper. Sled’s deep bloodshot eyes widened. His pupils dilated. His chest, almost pressing against the table, heaved.

“Yes…” The word exited through a membrane of saliva.

“First the photos,” Harry said. He slid the silver triangle back into his pocket.

“First the chocolate,” Sled said. “Then I’ll look at all the your pretty photos you want. Anything for you, Harry – after the chocolate, that is.”

“I thought as much.” Harry peeled open the wrapper slowly, as a deliberate act of seduction. Sled cursed with pleasure. Saliva formed between his lips but he sucked it back before it could hit the table.

“Feed me, Harry.”

Sled giggled as if the soul of a young girl had entered his body, a girl who perhaps once sat in the same olive chair Sled was chained to. Maybe she had said the same flirtatious thing to a teenage Harry once or twice.

Harry broke off a chunk of chocolate and placed it on Sled’s active tongue. It disappeared. Literally inhaled. The tips of Harry’s fingers were wet with the warm chocolate, but he left them there in Sled’s mouth. Harry looked away while Sled licked his fingers clean. It felt to Harry like a hungry stray animal with its first taste of homemade gravy. It’s for Mary it’s for Mary it’s for Mary, Harry kept reminding himself. He wiped off his fingers on Sled’s shirt.

“That was amazing,” Sled said. “Better than I remember.”

“Now the photos.”

“As I said before, anything for you, Harry.”

Harry removed the first photograph. “Talk.”

“The only thing better than chocolate,” Sled said, “is the look of a fine young woman.”

“She’s not exactly a woman yet.” Harry fought back the urge to spit between Sled’s eyes, but he needed this visit to yield results. Harry couldn’t afford to have things end as they had before, although his suspension seemed worth it.

“What’s her name,” Sled asked. His eyes scanned the image, the girl’s red hair, the freckles, the plain spring dress, the thin legs, the unlaced sneakers, the brilliant emerald eyes.

“Sally.”

Sled looked at Harry. “Look at me. I said look at me. Don’t lie to me, Harry.”

“Her name is Mary,” Harry confessed.

“That’s better”. Sled examined the image closer. “Mary… Mary…” Sled absorbed the image, became a part of it, almost like a photographer recalling how he made the image. Sled waited for flashes of insight that didn’t come.

“It’s not working today.”

“Try harder.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t just make it happen on command; otherwise, I’d be rich.”

“Try harder.”

“Harry. What I do is fine art.”

“What you do is —“

“What I do, Harry, is always, always, always help you. It’s always about you, isn’t it, Harry? Yes it is, isn’t it? Yes it is. Yes it is. Isn’t it? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, it is.”

The chocolate was taking effect.

“Try again. Please.” Harry pulled out a few more photographs and spread them across the table. “Please?”

Harry looked at the guards, twin brothers, Cabo and Hatu. “Can you set his hands free? I think it may help if Sled touched the pictures.”

“Yes, I need to touch the girl,” Sled said. “It promise to be a good boy this time.” He giggled again.

Cabo or Hatu, it was hard to tell which, since they were identical twins, undid Sled’s locks and unwrapped the chains from his upper body. To his credit, Sled looked at the images in front of him as if seeing them for the first time. He touched the borders of the photographs, ran his fingers across Mary’s face, her flowing light blue dress, her bare legs and feet, her legs again. His knobby fingers trembled.

“How old,” Sled asked, “Twelve? Thirteen?”

“Fifteen.”

“Well, well, our little Mary is all grown up. Past her prime.” Harry looked away. Sled pressed his palms into the prints and closed his eyes and imagined himself with her. Come on, Sled. Make this quick, Harry thought. Sled relaxed his hands and shook his head.

“Sorry. I got nothing.”

“Gentleman,” Harry said, “Would you please leave us alone for a while?”

Cabo and Hatu looked at each other. “It’s okay. Sled promised to be good, remember? Anyway, I could use some water.”

“I’ll take a root beer,” Sled said. “12-ounce, not the 8-once.”

Cabo and Hatu left without speaking, then one of them turned back. “You’ve got ten minutes.” Harry retrieved his jacket from the chair back and draped it across his lap. “Thank you,” he said.

“We can do a lot in ten minutes,” Sled said. There was that giggle again.

The kitchen door swung closed, and Harry removed the vial and syringe, careful to shield it from the surveillance cameras. Sled was giddy. He huddled close to Harry and exposed his bare arm.

“Ahhh… lookeyhere, lookeyhere… My man came through.”

Harry huddled over Sled, jammed the needle into the vial and withdrew a random volume. He didn’t even look at the cc markings.

“What is it what is it what is it?”

“No clue. I fished it out of the dumpster behind the abandoned Absentia Regional Hospital.”

Sled laughed like several wild animals combined into one. “Just the way I like it! Thrill of the unknown!” His feet tapped the floor in anticipation. “Do me do me do me. Hurry, man! Do me!”

Harry looked around the room but it didn’t ease his paranoia. Sled wrapped his sleeve tight around some crooked fingers, and gripped the wad of fabric in anticipation. Harry buried the needle deep into Sled’s exposed forearm. Sled flinched and let go of his sleeve. Harry drove the plunger down to zero as quickly as the plunger would go, then hid the empty syringe and bottle back into his jacket.

Sled’s breathing became rapid. “Harry, you silly boy, you didn’t shoot out the air first. People die from air in the vein!” Sled young-girl-giggled.

“You’re not a person. You’ll be fine.”

Sled laughed. “Good one. Oh man… Oh man…” Sled’s bloodshot eyes rolled so far back that Harry saw pure white in the edges. His eyelids flickered madly. Sled involuntarily convulsed, fought against tight chains, then stopped moving.

Sled’s body slumped forward in the small chair, a marionette with cut strings. Unlike a marionette, which normally has no salivary glands, saliva streamed from between Sled’s yellow teeth and onto the images of Mary. Harry raised Sled’s head and let it go. It swung to the side, lifeless.

Harry waited, but not long. “Talk, you waste of human flesh, or so help me, I’ll fill your veins full of nothing but air, and I won’t care who sees me do it. Sled, talk you son of a…”

Sled’s eyes rolled forward just enough to show something besides white, almost color.

“Judge people much?”

Sled offered a saliva-filled smile. He slurped a few times, then tried to play it like a guitar string. Harry pulled Sled’s shirt up and wiped Sled’s mouth.

“You’d make some junkie a good mother,” Sled said. “You just turned inside out.” With that, Sled’s head fell sideways, just as a strong spray of rainbow-colored vomit missed Harry and the images and splattered on the tile floor.

“Nice pattern,” Sled said.

Harry adjusted Sled’s head until his eyes were over the photos again. “Concentrate, or sense, or whatever you do. What do you see now?”

“Pretty girl. So pretty. Overly dressed. Under-utilized. But pretty. Can I have these photos when we’re done? Or even before?”

Harry pushed his knuckles into Sled’s temples so hard that his own face became red.

“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Okay, okay. She’s not dead. Wishes she were dead, but not. She’s like me Harry. Chained. Dead inside. Ease up before your knuckles touch each other.”

Harry released the pressure a little. “Has she been… ?”

“Duh.”

Harry’s arms went limp. ”How many people? How many times?”

“You don’t want to know. But it’s all been recorded, so with a little research. you’ll know all of the details. Speaking of, I could use a copy for future reference, so when you’re feeling generous…”

Harry slapped Sled once or twice with an open hand, then once with a closed fist.

“Nice.” The left side of Sled’s face glowed red. “I guess that’s a no.”

“Where is she?” Harry grabbed Sled by the ears and squeezed with all of his frustration and most of his strength.

“Dang. Retire already. Get a hobby or something. I see Mary just off of Bone Dust Road. White trailer near the gravel pit.”

Harry let go of Sled. Another stream of saliva oozed from Sled’s mouth. Something almost came out of his nose, but he snorted it back in.

“How sure are you? How clear is the vision?”

“Clear enough. You might want to act on it soon.”

Harry wiped his hands on Sled’s shirt.

“Dang man. Don’t teach that coconut crusher move to my tag-team brothers in the back, or my brain bucket’s done for.”

“Are Cabo and Hatu rude to you?”

“Rude? No, Harry. They are perfect gentlemen. After all, this is an Asylum. We excel at establishing personal boundaries. You’re the only one around here who considers me a waste of human flesh.”

Okay that hurt, Harry said to himself. Sled had helped Harry find a number of children. Some were unharmed, some stiff corpses, others lifeless like corpses and cold only on the inside. Still, Harry could not bring himself to apologize to Sled.

“Let’s just say,” Sled said, “those two goons behind the swinging kitchen door give new meaning to the term, ‘tag-team’, if you know what I mean. They don’t even tag before they switch. Some retired professional wrestlers they are.”

“I’m —”

“But we’ve got an agreement. They get to have their fun with me, but they agree not to feed me to the crematoria in pieces. It’s a win-win.”

Harry took the only positive spin he saw. “Aren’t those kilns they discovered too small for human use? That’s what the story in the Told-You-So said.”

“It was in there?”

“Page 3.”

“Well, I’ll be. We’ve hit the big time. Nothing’s too small for human use when you —.“ Sled stuck out a wrist, and with the other he made a hacking motion on it. “Chop-chop,” he said.

“What? They wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t. Would they? No. They couldn’t get away with that. Could they?”

“Ever smell something weird on Tuesday afternoons, like a wiener roast gone bad?”

“What do you mean?”

“We here on the inside refer to it as, ‘Smoked Meat Tuesdays’.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Controlled burn.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Thins the herd.”

Harry thought back to his recent Tuesdays. He hadn’t noticed anything abnormal about Tuesdays, until now. Still…

“You’re full of crap,” Harry said.

“In a day or so, I’ll be empty of the crap I’m now full of, or is it, empty of the crap of which I’m now full? I never like to end a sentence in a preposition.”

“How much did I shoot in you?”

“Not enough. This daily grind is getting to me, Harry. It’s become a pain in the buttal region. Pun intended. Get it, Harry? Get it? The grind? Pain? Buttal region?”

Harry didn’t laugh.

“See, it’s a metaphor. What I’m really saying is, —”

“Sled, about the tag-teaming. I’m —” Harry’s interruption was the closest Harry had ever come to a full-on Sled apology. I’ll talk to somebody.”

“Aw, how sweet. That must have been hard for you, coming so close to admitting your sorry. I did it again. Pun. Hard for you. Get it? Hard?”

“Sled, I know you’ve had it rough in here, but —“

“Harry, I’m indefatigable.”

“What?”

“Look it up.”

“Whatever. I’ll talk to The Powers. Maybe they can call someone and make the abuse stop.”

“Because, that’s what I need, Harry. A meeting, a discussion, a two-hour conference call followed by teleconference followed by a summit, then maybe a faxed copy of the minutes so I can read while I’m being tag-teamed by Fee-Fi and Fo-Fum back there.”

“Maybe I can pull some strings, maybe get Cabo and Hatu disciplined or suspended”.

By all means, Harry, let’s put the word out that I’ve complained about what Cabo and Hatu do to me,” Sled pointed his head in the general direction of the swinging door to the kitchen, “because, what I need is for them to give me a reason to complain.”

As if on cue, the kitchen door opened and the twins returned to the table in the middle of the room. Harry took the bottle of water from either Cabo or Hatu and drank most of it. Under the table, he shoved the roll of money into the mouth of the bottle and offered it to Sled.

“Want a drink?”

“No thanks. I don’t want your germs.”

“Yes you do. Take it.”

Sled sloshed the drink around. The pale green cylinder of cash spun as if caught in a liquid cyclone. “I’m in love with Harry.” Sled tilted the bottle, took a few gulps and sat it down empty of water and money. “And Harry’s in love with me.”

“The Powers want you compensated for your services, even when delivered through unofficial channels such as these.”

“I’ll be sure not to spend it all in one state institution.”

Sled burped. “Nasty. Tastes like new 20s.”

.  _  . _  .  _  .

{Next time, the conclusion of the Harry / Sled interview.}