Cake and Double Talk
Note: The character of 'Uncle Gub' is borrowed
from Joseph Faria, the author and copyright holder of
"The Mary Jane stories," and is used here with
that author's express and gracious permission.
had not written a novel in ten years, only a few screenplays.
One morning his accountant called to tell him that he
was almost broke. He fell into a strange state of listlessness.
There was still time, said the accountant, to turn things
around, to recoup his losses. But, strangely, he did nothing
to help his situation. Instead, he lazed around his small
house playing the saxophone. The accountant resigned.
Quinn's supply of cash was dwindling. He owed money to
people he'd never heard of. His credit cards began to
decline purchases and advances; he was unable to buy new
clothes, or to eat in restaurants. Then his property taxes
came due. Since he had no means to pay them, he was forced
to sell the house—at a loss, as it turned out. He
moved into an apartment in the city. One day, soon after
the move, he pawned his saxophone to pay rent. After paying
the rent and the gas bill, he had nothing left but some
change in his pockets. He was forty-eight years old. It
was snowing. He went into a bar, sat at a table and emptied
his pockets. He looked at the scattered change. When he
glanced up, his eyes met the eyes of a startlingly good-looking
Latina in a fire-engine red dress seated on one of the
stools at the end of the bar. He smiled at her, sadly.
She flashed dazzling teeth.
A few minutes later, she was at his
table. She put her small, hot hand over one of his and
"Like some company?" she asked.
Quinn gave a bitter laugh.
"Actually, I'm afraid all I can
afford to do is talk."
"Even talk isn't that cheap,"
the woman said coldly. She had just seen the coins scattered
on the table.
Without another word, she rose and strode
hip-swingingly back over to the bar. Quinn sat still,
covering his eyes with his hands.
He took the hands away from his face
when he felt the table move. There was a large Latin man
leaning on it, his bulging forearms covered with writhing
"May I help you?" He spoke
around a darting toothpick.
Quinn pointed to the change:
"Is this enough for a beer?"
The bartender frowned and, sweeping
the change off the table, went back over to the bar and
stuck a glass under a beer tap. Quinn covered his eyes
again. He saw stars, moons, four-leaf clovers...
As Quinn stood at the doorway adjusting
his duffel coat and mittens, the Latina woman sidled up
to him, slinking her arms around his waist.
"My name is Elena. What's
He tried to pull her fingers apart,
but she wouldn't let go.
"Quinn. But I told you—"
She laid her head on his shoulder: whispered,
"I can get you some money, Quinn,
if you do something."
"I can make you feel good, too,
if that's what you want."
Quinn shrugged. His wool cap had a bell
on it that tinkled with the shrug.
Elena let go of his waist but
grasped his right hand by the thumb, tugging. He followed
her beautiful swaying hips around the bar into a back
room, where the snake-tatooed bartender was sitting at
a desk smoking a cigarillo.
The bartender picked up an envelope
and emptied it onto the desk—sliding bundles of
"If you will deliver the envelope
to the address I give, I will pay you one hundred dollars
in cash. OK?"
The bartender scooped up the loose packets
of bills, crushing them back into the bulging envelope,
and sealed it. Quinn's attention was distracted by a small
aluminum-plated gun that had been lying under the envelope,
and was now exposed to view.
Quinn asked, "And how much is it
to spend a half hour with—?"
Elena laughed loudly. The bartender
grinned, flashing a gold molar.
He left them alone with a warning to
Elena not to take more than thirty minutes. Elena unzipped
and stepped out of her dress. She had fat-nippled breasts
and wide, motherly hips. Her belly was slightly rounded,
like a wood stove's.
As she wriggled out of the black lace
panties, Quinn fell to his knees and pressed his mouth
to Elena's zippered Caesarian scar .
into the dimness of the auto body shop, Quinn saw sparks
flashing from a welding torch. Between the bursts of hissing
flame, he yelled out,
"Hello? Anyone home?"
He watched as the gray-haired man stepped
back from an engine block, raising his visor. The man's
face was smudged with motor oil; he was wearing a blue
jumper stained with sweat at the armpits.
"Yee-ah," the man said.
Quinn held up the manila envelope and
waved it slightly.
"...'d Lazarus sendja?"
His face impassive, the man set down
the welding torch on a tray of tools and, slipping off
his work gloves, walked over to the doorway. Taking the
envelope from Quinn's fingers, he shook it.
"...Much's in 'ere?"
"Don't know eh? Well, if I have
complaints I'll get in touch with Lazarus. Right?"
Quinn said, "That's right."
"Pretty cool customer, arentcha?"
the man asked.
"'Come in here, you don't know
what might be waitin', who yer gonna hafta deal with."
Again, Quinn shrugged.
"What's yer name?"
Quinn said, "Quinn."
He held out his hand.
The gray haired man shook it once downward
and let go.
"You go tell your boss, er, Quinn,
that everything's fine and dandy. Got it?"
He slapped Quinn's shoulder so hard
that the bell on Quinn's cap jingled.
Walking down the cement walkway out
of the shop, Quinn heard the welding torch hiss to life
laid out a creased fifty on the bar. Quinn stared at the
bill for a long moment, then tapped it with the bitten-down
nail of his right thumb.
"Scotch," he said.
It felt good to be giving orders again.
Lazarus poured the drink and shoved
it over the bar, but waved away the bill when Quinn held
it out to him.
"Where's Elena?" Quinn asked
"She's out, my man, she's out.
Outa town 'till Sunday."
Quinn spread out the fifty dollar bill
"How much for that gun I saw?"
"No, my friend, you don't want
it. Hold onto your pants for a few days and I will get
you a real hand cannon. Go on, put that cash away."
slopped scalding coffee from his cup into the saucer and
drank it out of the saucer. It was the next morning, and
he was sitting in a booth in a dingy cafe by the waterfront.
He was brutally hung over. As he drank his coffee he let
his gaze roam around the cafe. He suddenly focussed on
a midget, in a belted Sam Spade trenchcoat and a peaked
red hunting cap, standing on a stool at the counter. The
midget was picking up a glazed donut and taking bites
from it between noisy slurps of coffee. He had on black
priest's shoes. As Quinn looked, the midget withdrew a
folded pink handkerchief from one of the trenchcoat pockets,
unfurled it with a flourish, and honked his nose into
it. Quinn looked around. None of the other patrons seemed
to be either particularly impressed or bewildered by the
presence of the midget in their midst.
A midget in our midst...! Quinn
He laughed, blowing coffee out his nose
onto the Formica table. The waitress paused, holding a
coffee pot in one hand, to stare at him, and he felt himself
shrink with shame. He mopped up the coffee in clumsy gestures
with napkins he yanked from the chrome plated napkin dispenser
on his table. When he'd finished cleaning up the spill,
he found himself staring into the dazzling blue eyes of
the midget, who was now standing next to his booth. The
midget's small head and hunting cap, poised only a few
inches above table level, seemed to float in space. Quinn
opened his mouth in an oh, but said nothing.
"May I sit down?" the midget
asked. His voice was not squeaky but merely high and slightly
nasal—the voice of an adolescent boy or an Italian
"Of course," Quinn said, blinking.
The midget walked in stiff circus-steps
over to the pay phone and slid from its shelf the fat
Nynex Yellow Pages, which he carried back to the booth
and slapped down onto the padded seat across from Quinn.
Quinn watched as the midget clambered up and adjusted
himself for comfort on the Yellow Pages. He then shook
the tiny, stick-dry hand that the midget offered him.
"Pleased to make the acquaintance
of a fellow literary man," the midget said. "We're
a rare and rapidly vanishing breed. It's on our heads
that the curse of alcoholism so often falls like the avenging
sword of Damocles. We're also, of course, stalked by a
cruel assortment of manias and depressions. Suicide is
the common end to our miserable lives, be we celebrated
or reviled, published in editions of fifty thousand copies
or stacked on remainder shelves after selling only five
hundred to our family and friends and friends' friends.
I'm Uncle Gub."
"Gub?" Quinn said.
"Are you afflicted by some unfortunate
speech impediment?" queried the midget, his eyes
sparkling. "Or are you merely a dialogic minimalist?"
"Gub spelled backwards, the midget
said, is Bug. While Quinn spelled backwards is Nniuq.
Which of us do you suppose has lucked out the most—anagramatically
Quinn said, "I'm sorry, but do
I know you?"
"You do. I just introduced myself.
Weren't you listening? Or were you enjoying the delights
of what the pop tune calls 'your own private Idaho'? Idaho
Joe—that's what I should call you. Joe is
your given name, isn't it? Although I quite agree that
'Quinn' looks better under the publicity shots. Excuse
me," Uncle Gub said, and plucked a pipe out of his
overcoat pocket. The pipe was already smoldering. Uncle
Gub sucked on the pipe and extended it stem first to Quinn,
who shook his head hard.
"You know," Uncle Gub said,
in a recitatory tone. "At odd moments I find myself
remembering those endless summers at Lake Quikaquasha...The
hot days...The misty twilights...Monica Carleton's slinky
body, laughing eyes and gum flecked braces..."
Quinn's face went linen-white.
"Who are you?"
The midget spelled out letters with
puffs of pipe smoke, declaiming loudly after each exhaled
Quinn scrambled out of the booth, sweating.
"How, how, how do you...know so
"Simple, my good man. Simple. I've
read your feverish literary efforts in all the best print
venues, including that Guttenberg fetish known as the
book...I'm an old and desiccated FAN. Do you want
me to spell that out for you?"
"No!" Quinn shouted.
"Fine," Uncle Gub said, slipping
the pipe back into a pocket. "Enough chit-chat. Anyhow,
we have certain items of business to discuss. I suggest
we go for a stroll. As Doctor Johnson so truly opined,
a postprandial stroll concentrates the mind wonderfully.
(Or was it the prospect of imminent hanging?...Oh, dear.
My old friend is probably spinning in his grave right
Quinn shivered like a wet dog as Uncle
Gub clambered down from his Nynex Yellow Pages and slid
out of the booth.
"Dolores, be so good as to put
this gentleman's repast on my tab, won't you?" the
midget called out to the beehive-haired waitress posed
slinkily, hand on one hip, at the end of the gleaming
Dolores snapped her gum and said in
a haughty, bored voice, "Sure thing, sweetipants."
Gub held Quinn's jacket sleeve tightly between thumb and
forefinger as they walked through the park across from
the waterfront, giving it sharp tugs whenever Quinn's
pace threatened to topple the midget like a ten pin. As
it was, Uncle Gub had to hop every few steps just to keep
in stride. The midget was rattling on about a glossy racehorse
he had recently purchased from a sultan in Kuwait which
he was now training, in a location better left undisclosed,
to run in the Kentucky Derby:
"You should see the beast. Muscles
like ropes, skin like satin sheets...Prances like a Manhattan
hairdresser on Gay Pride Day...And the best part is I'm
going to ride him to glory myself. I'm a fabulous
jockey, I've ridden all the winners. Do you remember Secretary?"
Quinn thinking:"(What is this?...God,
"God or Gub?" asked the midget.
Quinn tore his arm away from Uncle Gub's
"Leave me alone!"
Uncle Gub hung his head to one side
for a moment, then spun in place, moonwalked a few steps
backward, and fixed his cap, with a backward swipe of
the hand, at a jaunty angle.
"Want to see something neat, shiny
and new?" the midget said as he pulled a black object
from one of the trenchcoat pockets.
Quinn retreated a few shaky paces.
"It's a gun," Uncle Gub said.
"I heard you wanted one."
"Ssh, ssh," said Uncle
Gub, his voice pitched lower than usual.
"You're going to shoot me?"
"Oh, no." The midget
laughed. "Look—" He jerked out the ammunition
clip and showed it to Quinn in his palm. "See these
fearsome-looking bullets, here? These babies are an invention
of my own. You've heard of 'armor piercing rounds'? Yes?
Well, I call these Existence Piercing rounds. EPR's, for
short. Do you get it? No? Weren't you once a Catholic?
Huh? Speak up."
"Sure he says. Sure. OK. Well if
you shoot a person with one of these bullets it doesn't
just kill him. It makes him or her disappear, poof, just
as if he or she had never existed, had never even been
"That's crazy," Quinn said.
"Try it, it works like a charm,"
Uncle Gub said, replacing the clip and holding the gun
out to Quinn butt first.
Quinn held up his hands palms out.
"Just observe, then," Uncle
Gub said over his shoulder as he stepped out onto the
street into the path of a speeding Lexus. The driver slammed
on the brakes and the Lexus, its tires smoking, came to
a stop with the fender only inches from the midget's scrawny,
pencil-thin chest. There was a shocked moment of stillness.
Then the driver's side door flew open and a handsome young
woman in a Dolce & Gabbana suit and Prada pumps staggered
"Oh my God. What are you doing
playing in the street, you little brat?" she screamed,
her wrist bracelets jangling. "I almost killed you!"
Uncle Gub raised the gun; the muzzle
flashed. The shot was a flat pop. The woman disappeared
like a burst soap bubble on a summer afternoon. Uncle
Gub turned to Quinn, grinning and pumping his fist in
the air triumphantly. Quinn stared at him. Then the midget
pointed to the child's safety seat in the back of the
slumped on a park bench to try to calm his wildly beating
pulse. Uncle Gub stood by, patting his arm with one hand
while holding the smoldering pipe to his lips with the
"There, there..." he said,
around the moist pipe stem. "Just breathe,
my boy...Shallow breaths, that's right..."
Finally, Quinn managed to gulp enough
air to say, "So, this business you said you wanted
to discuss. Let's just get it over with...can we?"
As Uncle Gub sucked on the pipe, his
cheeks went hollow. He inhaled deeply, then blew a smoke
ring and stabbed his index finger through it. His blue
"Sure thing," he said. "But
allow me to preface my words to you with a brief disclaimer.
While it's true that, in my assumed role of gadfly to
those proud spirits inhabiting the world of belles-lettres,
I sometimes take it upon myself to help and advise the
less than great, the abject, and even—not to mince
words—the hopelessly mediocre, I make no claims
as to the quality of my information and no guarantees
as to ultimate results. Understood?"
"The message is simple and crystal
clear. You are headed for trouble, my scribbling friend.
You exist in a state of imminent peril."
"Shush. Let me finish. There is
Uncle Gub blew smoke into Quinn's face.
"I am not interested in fishing
for names, and especially not for a woman's name."
"What have you got against women?"
"Nothing. The fairer sex and all
that. Hi di hi. Do dee dum."
Quinn shook his head.
"I can't believe you shot that
"Pah. An act of considerable mercy.
The wisest consider disappearance an enviable fate, and
never to have been born best of all. Are you familiar
with the story of the Cumerian Sybil? No? Ah, forget it."
Uncle Gub ejected the ashes from his
slender, long stemmed pipe by tapping the bowl sharply
on Quinn's knee. Quinn's leg jumped each time Uncle Gub
"Ha. The reflexes of a champion,"
Uncle Gub said. "There's hope for you yet, my boy."
"So—you want me to stay away
from a woman? Is that it?"
Uncle Gub huffed and spat.
"Priority one, from my humble point
of view, is that you have the time and leisure—and
life, my boy—to compose your next book. If
achieving this goal requires avoiding one woman, or even
spurning all women for the rest of your days,
I don't see how you can possibly object."
"OK," said Quinn. "You
win. So I stay away from this woman, maybe from all women.
I'm not young enough anymore to care. But there's still
a problem. To write I need to live, and to live I need
Uncle Gub patted Quinn's shoulder in
a vaguely fatherly way.
"Oh, don't worry about that, my
boy. If you follow my instructions to the letter, you
won't be having any money problems for a good long while.
Help me up onto the bench and I'll dicca tutto a lei."
Quinn set his jaw, grasped Uncle Gub
by the shoulders, and swung him up onto the bench, setting
him down as gently as he would have an underfed child.
Uncle Gub, seated comfortably with his legs sticking straight
out from his skinny body, filled the pipe from a small,
grimy yellow tobacco pouch as he spoke.
was mopping the bar surface with a rag. He saluted with
the rag as Quinn walked in.
"What's yours?" he said.
Quinn said, "Scotch."
Lazarus grabbed a bottle from the shelf
and poured a tumbler half full. He slid it over the bar
"Elena around today?" Quinn
"Why do you wanna know?" Lazarus
asked as he emptied an ashtray.
"By the way. There was a friend
of yours in this afternoon," Lazarus said.
"Uncle...Uncle something. Wait."
Lazarus fished in his shirt pocket.
He pulled out an embossed business card between two fingers
and placed it on the bar next to Quinn's glass.
"Aren't you going to drink your
Scotch?" he asked
Quinn was staring at the card. It read:
Equine Trainer & Consultant
"What did he say?" Quinn asked.
Quinn picked up and waved the card.
"My friend. Uncle Gub."
Lazarus took it from his fingers and
slipped it back into the shirt pocket.
"Nada. He had a few drinks
and told some jokes I can't even repeat to you they're
so filthy, and then went off with your girl, Elena.
I think she'll show him a good time, huh? What do you
Lazarus paused long enough to laugh
at the stricken expression on Quinn's face, then began
restocking beer bottles.
Quinn sat still, staring at his glass.
He was remembering shooting the man in the auto body shop,
and how the man had simply flashed out of existence. And
if the man had ever had any children, they had flashed
out of existence at the same instant.
Quinn had then quickly located the office
safe—it was where the midget had said it would be—and
spun the dial to the combination Uncle Gub had jotted
down for him in the cover of a 'La Coupole' matchbook.
Inside, he'd found a canvas bag packed with tight bundles
stiffened when the door was shoved open, letting in daylight
glare, and a large man with a gold chain on under his
leather jacket entered, strode over to Lazarus and spoke
to him in whispers. Lazarus listened with his head bowed.
Quinn's skin was beginning to prickle. He decided to finish
the drink and go, quickly. He was drinking the last drops
in his glass when he felt a hand on his shoulder: Elena,
smiling at him with her full lips, radiant. Her dark hair
had been freshly curled.
"Yo, my man," a voice said,
and Quinn turned to see Lazarus and the larger man staring
at him. He felt the air go electric with danger.
"Come on over here."
Lazarus crooked a little finger.
"You deaf?" the larger man
said in a booming voice.
"Come here," Lazarus said,
his voice low and soothing. "We need to discuss a
turn of events."
Quinn slid from the stool, reached behind
him, and pulled the gun out of his belt where he had stuck
it against the small of his back. The larger man pulled
out his own gun, much bigger than Quinn's. But before
he could fire it, Quinn shot him in the chest. He blinked
out of existence like the image on a TV screen switched
off by remote.
Lazarus stared open-mouthed at the space
where the larger man had just been standing. He raised
his hands shakily in the air.
Quinn shot him.
air was sharp with the smell of cordite. Smoke from the
gun muzzle drifted in lazy swirls up toward the ceiling.
Quinn slipped Uncle Gub's gun back into his waistband.
As he turned, smiling in triumph, toward Elena, he saw
her arm swing up and felt something swipe across his neck.
For an instant, he thought she had swiped him with an
elementary school ruler. Why would she do that? To tickle
him? Then he looked down and saw the ivory handled straight
razor in her hand, its blade extended.
Quinn brought both his hands up and
pressed them to his neck. He felt blood spray through
the fingers. Elena was backing away, one hand covering
her mouth to hold in a scream. Quinn staggered and fell
to his knees, then swayed and collapsed. He felt himself
rush out of his body. From above, he saw himself splayed
on the wooden floor, his eyes fixed in a glassy stare.
The blood was no longer pumping from the cut in his neck,
but flowing in a smooth stream.
He saw Elena turn and dash out of the
bar. He rose through the ceiling and saw her run down
the street and turn the corner. He rose higher, and saw
the streets and the rooftops, the park by the waterfront,
and the harbor beyond it with the hulks of boats floating
in the steel gray water and the wide open sea shining
Then Quinn heard, from far below him,
a series of amateurish honks, beeps, bleeps and squeals.
He looked down and saw the midget standing at the end
of a rotting pier, his trenchcoat buttoned to the chin,
holding a large saxophone to his mouth.
Uncle Gub was playing "Last Post"—that
mournful tune heard at the end of the day in army barracks
throughout the world. He was playing it at an even more
relaxed and lingering pace than usual.
Quinn's astral eyes filled with tears.
Bravo! he thought.
The song ended with a bleat and a drawn-out
wail. As he soared higher and higher, Quinn was just barely
able to make out Uncle Gub waving a pink handkerchief
in the wind.