Tremors

By Martin Ott

Milo could not believe his luck, or lack of it, his own landscaping business teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. He’d landed a security job at a building in LA Live from his ex-wife’s father. Now he was a rent-a-badge on the wrong side of forty, the failed side of fatherhood, the cliff side of health. It wasn’t just the pound a year that migrated to his midsection; it was the panic attacks born out of his failed marriage, the son he rarely saw, his difficulty with rage as he attempted to keep the peace at his job. His stress gave him panic attacks, tremors that vibrated through him and left him feeling like he was living underwater. One of his phobias was earthquakes, a fear he shared with the real estate tycoon Bart who owned the building he worked in and most of the city square surrounding them.

Bart was a weird guy, complaining about the varicose veins of the earth beneath his signature behemoth developments. He was known for his attention to detail and devotion to the minutia of any deal, from the wrinkles in the contracts that squeezed additional income streams from parking lot rentals to digitized billboards and sampling rights. His latest development had given downtown LA a needed boost and himself a job. Bart erected a replica of the soon-to-be-finished square in the lobby of his building, accurate down to the traffic signs, sports statues commemorating the local warriors, and a tiny version of himself standing on the helicopter pad like a gargoyle.

The CEO of the energy drink company, Derrick, was a man who believed in propulsion, a risk taker and boy at heart, an avid bicyclist who rode twenty miles to work fueled by a cocktail yet to be approved by the FDA. His employees thought of him as a ‘bro,’ and often invited him to play ping pong and foosball during their breaks. The CEO loved the location of his company so close to the games and concerts, but he was peeved about the rent he paid for his office suite, the placement of his logo in an alley behind the famous restaurant, and the ads promoting the dark sugar water with pictures of athletes, a stark lie. This was one of the many rants that Bart gave Milo, and he was certain the CEO wanted the world to be erased beneath the wheels of his bike.

Milo’s hands sometimes shook and he wasn’t sure if it was from the concussions from high school football, the whiskey he craved to get through the day without the feeling of a spike through his forehead, or helplessness from only seeing his son once a week. He was a large man who felt small every time the tycoon or CEO whizzed by. One had an Irish last name and the other an English accent, and there seemed to be a tension that erupted whenever they encountered each other in the lobby with insults of “whiner” and “crook,” and shaking fists on their ways to separate elevators, one holding a briefcase and the other his racing bike.

Milo did not report the incidents because he worked for both in a way, and he worried that he could be released if he caused even the slightest wave. When his son asked him about his job, he told him that there was a robot that was wandering around the square eating everything in its path, and it was his job to protect people from it. He did, actually, fear robots and he liked fantasizing with his son about the heroes and villains he played with, even though his ex told him that he was out of touch, and slowly going out of his mind.

People did need his protection, though. The feud between Bart and Derrick took a turn for the worse when the tycoon found the red S of an energy drink logo on his briefcase during a meeting with the mayor. He’d seen the stickers slapped on signs all over his plaza, and he had been willing to look the other way until this treasonous act. The tycoon was a man who built castles and made kings, and he would cut this spazzy tonic hawker and his minions down to size. At least, this is what he ranted to Derrick in the lobby. The tycoon placed extra cameras around the square in an attempt to nab anyone participating in these guerrilla tactics.

Milo found himself in an awkward position. He was asked to track the movements of the S interns, but he couldn’t take the kids seriously in their baggy pants and headphones as they gave him fist bumps and snuck in to the office suites late at night after visiting the bars. The relationship between the two alpha males in the building grew chilly, and Milo feared that he would have to break apart a fight.

Bart hired a private detective agency and took months to gather evidence. He was the more careful of the two men and the more cunning. Derrick was finally caught defacing the executive washroom on a secret camera. Instead of calling the police, Bart struck back, banning bicycles in the plaza and office building. The CEO wasn’t willing to park his $10,000 bicycle in the garage, so he stashed a pimped-out van detailed with his logo on it in his corporate spot, and he parked his bicycle there, drifting in and out of the plaza like a ghost early in the morning or late at night. The CEO wouldn’t take this ban lying down. Surely this was a sign that the real estate tycoon was about to lose his mind.

Milo was just coming back to the lobby from a smoke break early one evening, having stared at the fifty-foot Christmas tree with the light fading in his fingers, contemplating the holes in his resume and heart, and which superheroes to get his rambunctious son as a gift. He felt the vibrations first, and wondered if this was another quake. He peered through the lobby windows and caught the cause of the commotion framed by red and green Christmas lights. Bart was holding up a figurine of himself with a red S on his chest like Superman in one hand and yanking on the CEO’s scarf with the other. Meanwhile, Derrick swung his graphite bicycle lock down with two hands like an axe in a spastic effort to destroy the replica plaza, the tycoon’s pride and joy.

It was strange how time slowed enough for a crowd to form, for two tangled bodies to roll beneath the plaza display and for it to collapse on them with two tons of metal and glass. The English and Irish had their battle at last, and each had lost. Milo pushed through the throng and burst inside. Immediately, he knew as the two men held each other’s hand with eyes closed that the jaws of life would come too late to save them, that he would never raise his voice again when he grew frustrated by his ex, that his son would love playing with the small figurine with an S on its chest that had skidded to a rest beyond the pool of red.

Milo called 911 and kept onlookers from the crime scene. Disaster had struck, but the crowd was not out of the woods. Eventually robots would replace the men who had fallen, would replace them all. That night, he placed the figurine in his son’s stocking to join the ranks of other heroes and villains. When asked who the character was, all he could say was that it had the most dangerous superpowers, wealth and rage, with the power of quakes that threatened to bring their city crashing down around them.

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Martin Ott

Martin Ott / About Author

Martin Ott’s most recent book is Spectrum, C&R Press, 2016. He is the author of seven books and won the De Novo and Sandeen prizes for his first two poetry collections. His work has appeared in more than two hundred magazines and a dozen anthologies.

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