I was sitting at the food court, polishing off my Korean combo, when he came up next to me. The guy wore a hooded sweatshirt. He smelled like a goat. "Excuse me. Sir?" "No, I don't have any change. Now beat it." I stuck my fork back into my yakimandoo. When I looked up, the guy was still there. "I'm not asking you for money, Mr. Johannsen." "Then whaddya want? And howdja know my name?" "I represent Music Data Corp. I've been trying to get in touch with you for two weeks." The guy smiled and hoisted his backpack onto the table. I scowled and scooted my chair back. The metal legs screeched like fingers on a chalkboard. I wasn't about to ask the guy if he minded if I smoked. Screw him. I lit up. "You must not have tried very hard," I said, blowing smoke in his direction, "To get ahold of me, I mean." "Oh, no!" the guy said, waving away the smoke, "I've tried EVERYTHING. Phone calls..." "--I've got caller ID blocking." "Targeted mail..." "I shred it." "E-mail messages..." "Spam blocking." "We even sent someone to your door." "If your guy ignored my 'no soliciting' sign, I probably saw his ugly mug on the video cam and ignored him." "Mr. Johannsen, I have come here to talk to you from a very long way. You are a very lucky man! This is a great honor. What I am going to offer to you is something so unique, that..." "Listen, pal. Why don't you just buzz off." When I said that, the guy just stood there, his mouth hanging open. Then, suddenly, he just snorted and started stamping his feet. They made little clopping noises like horses' hooves. Honest! He was pissed. Mega pissed off. What a nut case. I had my hand on my taser gun in my suit pocket, just in case. While he was doing his little Jethro Tull dance, his hood came off. Then I saw what a real freak he was. Pointy eyebrows. Pointy ears. Curly brown hair that went down to his shoulders. Maybe he was headed to a Star Trek Convention. I didn't know. I just wanted him the hell out of there. He had no call to interrupt a man's lunch like that. He was invading my privacy, and my privacy means a lot to me. Right before he grabbed his backpack and stomped off, he hissed through his clenched teeth, "Enjoy it, then, Mr. Johannsen. Enjoy the gift of Pan!" Oh, I will, I thought, puffing on my cigarette. I'll enjoy it, all right. Takes all kinds, I guess.
* * * * *The sound truck woke me up the next morning at 5:30 a.m. I assume it was a sound truck. I never actually saw it. I could hear it, though. Playing this damn catchy tune out there on the street. Something like modern jazz, only with flutes and cymbals and a gong. I had just picked up my cell phone to dial the cops when it stopped. Somebody else must have called it in before I did. Riding the subway in to work, I couldn't get that tune out of my head. It had this rhythm to it, a sort of "Chicka-Ching Ching Badda Bang Ching Ching" thing going. My foot was tapping. Left-right-middle, left-right-middle, POW! I saw the old guy across me staring at my Florsheims, but I couldn't stop..Left-right-middle, left-right-middle, POW! I took the stairs to street level, hopping up them in rhythm. Left-right-Chicka-Ching-left- right-Badda Bang-POW! It was silly, but I couldn't help it. Gladys handed me about a half-dozen phone messages as soon as I got inside the door. That's advertising for you. No rest for the wicked. She tried to say something to me. I had to strain to hear her. The damn flutes had started in, from that song, on top of the cymbals and the gong. I finally shook off the music and managed to concentrate on what she was telling me. I took a seat at my desk and picked up the phone. I looked out at the skyline from my corner office, forty-second floor. That tune was going through my head again. It was catchy as hell. I wondered if we could acquire the rights. It would sound great as a back track for the Mercy perfume line.
* * * * *Board meeting at 9:00. Bill Macy opened his mouth to speak, and all I could hear was a gong. Frances Irwin chimed in, and it WAS chimes. Literally. I started sweating really hard and I got this bad pain in my chest. I was shaking, my hands wet gripping the seat underneath me, trying not to let on what was happening. As people went around the table, talking, all I heard was one musical instrument after the other. I was cracking up, man, losing it, sliding down a greasy ramp toward the looney bin. I excused myself and headed for the exec washroom to splash some water on my face. My feet jumped and jived down the hallway Chicka Ching Badda Bang POW Chick Chicka...I tried to walk normally, but now I was dancing like Fred Astaire and I couldn't control it... In the bathroom, the music just kept getting louder and louder and louder. Now there was something new...a saxophone on top, running a wild wailing descant...blowing crazy arpeggios that ducked in and out of the beat...The gong slams jerked my head back. The flute squeaks popped out of my fingertips. My guts quavered with the sax as my feet spun on the flooring. So loud, so damned loud! I twisted out of the bathroom door, my shirt tail hanging out, my glasses askew, bumping and bowing and grinding down the hall, like the Tasmanian devil or Cab Calloway on speed, tapping like Mr. Bojangles caught in a hurricane, my arms flipping and flapping, ready for takeoff...all the time that music screaming in my head like a jet airplane, flip flap fly, zippa zappa shoop a doop Chicka Ching Badda Bang POW POW POW POW POW POW! I saw myself heading for the plate glass window and I tried to stop but it was too late. I heard Gladys scream and then I busted through, smashing, shattering and plummeted, hurtling down toward the pavement. The music kept on going, all the way down. I hit hard, forty-two floors down, my body exploding like an overripe melon.
* * * * *I was dead, had to be, dead beyond all doubt. Everything was dark and cold. And yet... Somehow, from somewhere I heard it. The music, starting up again, getting louder and louder, wailing, more and more insistent...Then, though I had no more lungs and no mouth left to scream with, though my body was smashed and scattered over forty square feet of pavement, then me screaming, somehow: "GOOD GOD IN HEAVEN, MAKE IT STOP!"
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