Looking dashing in his bowler hat, John Lennon-style round sunglasses, shark-tooth necklace and vintage polyester bowling shirt, Richard navigated the Razor kick scooter through the dense shoals of pedestrians drifting along the sidewalk. He hopped off the scooter, picking it up as he entered the Heart Attack Café. The café boss Jimmy—devilish goatee, tight ponytail, tight black tee—greeted him with folded arms and the usual sour face. Richard followed the café boss’s coal black eyes to the Art Deco train station clock mounted on the wall behind the bar. The usual fifteen minutes late.
Having transitioned into his barista’s apron, Richard dropped off two cups of black coffee to the ultra-suave Barron, sporting a high pompadour and slim-fit Hugo Boss suit, and his lady friend Annika, a stunning raven-haired model in a strapless Betty Boop dress.
“Two cups of Kopi Luwak single origin,” said Richard.
Barron laid down a hundred dollar bill. “Keep the change.”
“I’m sorry, that was $78.95 per cup.”
Barron smiled, laying another c-note on the table, like, no sweat. He picked up the cup and took a delicate sip. “Worth every fucking penny.”
“Smells good,” said Annika.
She started to pick up her cup.
“Richard, why don’t you explain to Annika why this is the most expensive cup of coffee in the world,” said Barron.
“Quite simply because it is the rarest,” said Richard, “found only in the most remote regions of Indonesia and painstakingly harvested by hand, a bean at a time.”
“There was something else, about those beans?” mused Barron. “What was it?”
“Yes, of course,” said Richard. “Before a Kopi Luwak bean ever reaches your cup in this divine form, it is first ingested by a small cat-like animal called an Asian civet— Kopi Luwak literally means civet coffee— and then literally pooped out.”
Annika spat out the coffee and glared at Barron. “You fucking asshole.” She wiped her mouth with the white cloth napkin and stood up.
“Sumatran farmers lovingly pick through the droppings of these cat-like animals,” Richard continued, “sorting out the highly prized, partially digested beans.”
“I think I’m going to throw up,” she said, as she headed for the toilet.
“What’s new,” said Barron, watching her go.
Richard picked up the money and started to walk away. Barron got up and followed, grabbing Richard by the shoulder. He turned him around, putting another c-note in front of him.
“This one’s for you,” said Barron, “if you can get some more of that Jar-Jar for the party tonight.”
“You know I’m not a dealer,” said Richard.
“I know, you’re the life of the party. Just bring it. We want everybody to have a good time, right? Annika will be there, and a lot more just like her. The whole damn agency. You do not want to miss.”
“I’ll get it,” said Richard, turning to go.
Barron grabbed him again, forcing the c-note into his hand. “Take it. Take it.”
The café boss stood behind the counter with his hands on his hips, wearing an expression of utmost impatience.
“Richard, we have customers!” he squealed.
Richard took the c-note and walked away.
Richard scootered up to the CHEM-LAB building, weaving through the animal rights activists assembled out front with their signs and chants decrying the pharmaceutical giant’s primate testing program. Before reaching the front entrance, which was flanked by two armed guards, he veered off sharply and scootered around the side of the building, parking the Razor in front of a tall chain-link fence. He climbed up the fence, threw a leg over and dropped into the alley that ran behind the building. Strolling down the alley a ways he stopped at a maintenance door next to some dumpsters and knocked. After a moment, the door opened and Dave slipped out into the alley. Dave had long straggly hair and wore a white lab coat and thick glasses. Richard could hear the chimps and monkeys making a racket inside. The sound died as the door swung shut.
“Doing all this testing on monkeys is evil, man,” said Richard.
“These monkeys are getting high as shit, they’re loving it!” said Dave.
“Just give me my shit. I’m pressed for time.”
“Little problem with that,” said Dave. “The monkeys ate up the entire batch.”
“We had an arrangement,” said Richard. “Can’t believe I came all the way out here, wasting my entire afternoon and shit.”
He gave Dave a shove then turned and walked away in a huff. Dave grabbed his arm.
“I’ve got something else for you. Supposed to be even better. It’s called Polly. Actually poly-alpha-methyl-lysergic something, Polly for short. Brand fucking new, fresh from the test tube. And I got a bottle right here.”
He took a pill bottle out of his lab jacket and rattled it. Richard snatched the bottle from his hand.
“What’s it do?” Richard asked, studying the bottle.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Aren’t you a scientist?”
“Well, not exactly. All I know is it’s some kind of major league heavy-duty trip. And seriously hush-hush. Nobody’s even allowed to talk about it.”
Dave tripped as he turned toward the door. He leaned down and picked up a broom. “That’s where I left you.” He turned back to Richard. “Give it an hour to kick in. That’s all I know for sure.” He opened the door, once more unleashing the sound of screaming apes. “You might want to try it first, before you give it to anybody else. Just in case.”
Dave went back in the building. The door closed behind him, putting a lid on the boisterous primates. Richard looked at the label on the pill bottle, written in Dave’s childish handwriting: “Polly”.
The apartment was decked out with a movie poster for Over the Top, which featured a sweaty flexing Sylvester Stallone rocking a white tank top and silver eagle wings; the Japanese B2 poster for the 1963 crime film Johnny Cool featuring an eye-patch-wearing Sammy Davis, Jr.; a velvet Elvis painting; a fuzzy cat paw chair; a lava lamp; a disco ball, etc. Richard checked himself in the mirror. He was put-together, wearing a pinstripe vest and a bowler hat with a feather in it. He tilted the hat, giving it a dashing slant. He picked up the bottle of Polly and dropped one of the pills into his hand. He stared at himself in the mirror, long and hard, then popped the pill. He checked his watch, a vintage ticking Timex: 11:00 PM on the dot.
Richard caught an Uber to the falafel shop, in a sleepy part of downtown. A cluster of cool kids hung around out front smoking cigarettes—Lucky Strikes, Parliaments, American Spirits, Gauloises, rollies and Gitanes. Richard went inside, nodding at the two Middle Eastern guys behind the counter as he made his way to the back of the shop and descended a crumbling flight of stairs illuminated by flickering fluorescent light. As he reached the bottom and opened the door he got hit by a wall of sound—throbbing eclectic club beats layered with sitar, cowbell and Gregorian chants. A skinny Eastern European DJ with a shaved head, Boris, sweated over a dual-turntable as dancing bodies crowded the room, all concrete floor and cinder block walls. Real basement boiler-room chic. Richard saw Barron sitting with Annika and three other models from the agency, a willowy blonde, and two willowy brunettes. Barron didn’t appear to notice him. Richard checked his watch as the hands converged at midnight, staring down anxiously as the ticking seconds reached a crescendo in his head.
“Fucking fake-ass bullshit,” he muttered under his breath.
He approached a long-haired dude wearing a black sport coat over a Papa Smurf tee shirt. The dude was performing a very laidback kind of head-bob dance, with no body movement.
“Have you seen Dave?” Richard asked.
The long haired dude glanced around, as if he’d heard a whisper on the wind, then picked back up with the head bobbing like Richard wasn’t even there. Richard pressed him. “He sold me some bunk shit. Tell him I’m looking for him.” Instead of answering, the long haired dude walked right through him, not even making eye contact. Richard jumped out of the way. “Fuck you too man!”
Aggrieved at the slight, Richard made his way over to the DJ station.
“Boris, my man, what’s up?”
Richard raised his hand to slap five but Boris ignored him, taking a record out of its sleeve and setting it on the second turntable. Richard left his hand up, waiting. No love. He pulled the hand back, running it through his hair and turning back toward the dance floor. “This isn’t my day,” he said to himself as he waded through the dancing bodies and approached the bar. He waved to the bartender, a nifty little guy with a handlebar mustache and an old-west saloonkeeper’s apron. The bartender paid no attention to him and took the order of a faux-Vegas lounge lizard type with slicked-back hair, ruffled shirt and garish, oversized 70s tuxedo, who had arrived after Richard. The bartender returned a moment later with two cocktails for the lounge lizard, while Richard stood by impotently waving his money and making a loud whoop-whoop call that fell on deaf ears. Without even so much as a glance in Richard’s direction, the little saloonkeeper went to the end of the bar to take the order of an 80s punk rock chick sporting a green mohawk, Germs tee shirt, spiked collar and Birkenstocks.
Richard looked up at the big mirror mounted behind the bar, expecting to see a portrait of Munchen-esque ennui, but couldn’t find himself. He waved his hands, flapped his arms like a dodo bird, jumped up and down. Nothing stuck. He saw the whole club in the mirror, everyone but him. The little saloonkeeper had returned, and stood facing Richard while pouring a glass of wine. Richard threw a punch square at the little poser’s face, pulling back just in the nick, and got no reaction. Richard turned to the dance floor. Two of the willowy models with Barron got up from the table and started dancing together in the middle of the floor. A space cleared out. Every eye was on them, men and women.
Richard moved in, dance-strutting toward them like a disco toreador. He circled around them with one hand behind his head, a hand on his hip, pelvis thrusting like Elvis. He dropped to the floor, busting out an anemic quarter-turn backspin, then leaping to his feet and performing an elaborate striptease, first the jacket, then the shirt, the pants, until he was down to nothing but the leopard print bikini briefs and the fedora. He shimmied around the girls, who were now into some heavy dirty dancing, his body inches from theirs, moving and swaying with them without quite touching. He twirled away, dancing like a maniac (referencing, for himself alone, the She’s a Maniac video from Flashdance) and crashed into a server carrying a tray of drinks, spilling glass and ice all over the dance floor. The server looked around, quite pissed, but couldn’t find anybody to blame.
Richard danced over to Barron’s party and set his foot up on the table, hands behind his head, thrusting his bikini-clad pelvis right in Barron’s face as Barron, oblivious, continued to schmooze Annika and her model friend. Richard turned around and shook his ass in Barron’s face. Eyeing a bag of powder in one of the girls’ purses, he snagged it and stuffed it in his briefs. He snatched a pill bottle from another purse and stuffed that in the briefs as well. There was a pack of Marlboro Gold cigarettes on the table. He took it and stuffed it in his briefs. He sprinted over to the bar, snatched a three dollar tip off a check and stuffed it in his underpants, also picking up a handful of loose change and depositing it in the briefs with the rest. He sprinted across the dance floor, shaking his fist and pirouetting for joy.
Richard emerged from the falafel shop with his bikini briefs bulging with loot. The cluster of cool kids stood around outside smoking cigarettes. Nobody noticed him. He knocked the lumberjack cap off a lumberjack hipster’s head. The lumberjack hipster—big bushy beard, plaid flannel shirt—turned around with a look of utmost indignation to the smoking rockabilly hipster standing behind him.
“It was the wind, man,” said the rockabilly hipster.
Richard ripped the cigarette out of the rockabilly hipster’s mouth and stuck it in his own, where, to the young man’s astonishment, it turned invisible.
“What happened?” said the rockabilly hipster.
“The wind, dickhead,” said the lumberjack hipster, flicking his cigarette at the rockabilly hipster.
They circled each other anxiously with fists raised.
“Throw the first punch, man,” said Rockabilly.
“You throw it,” said Lumberjack.
Richard shoved the lumberjack hipster into the rockabilly hipster, and the two young men immediately dropped to the pavement, where they rolled around locked in combat, screaming like savages.
“Hipster fight!” shouted the young woman with the mohawk and Germs tee shirt.
A circle formed around them—“Kill him, Jerry!” screamed the long-hair in the blazer and Papa Smurf shirt; “Rip his fucking arms off, Leo!” shouted the young woman with the Mohawk, reveling in the raw, spontaneous barbarity—as Richard streaked off down the street in his overstuffed bikini briefs, triumphantly raising his arms like Rocky.
The door opened and closed as Richard entered his apartment invisibly. He materialized for an instant then disappeared. He materialized again across the room entering the bedroom then disappeared once more. In the bedroom, Richard re-materialized, this time remaining visible. He pulled the loot from his briefs, laying it all out on the futon. Pack of Marlboro Gold. Pill bottles (Ambien, Desoxyn). Glassine packet of white powder (probably Adderall). A few dollar bills. Loose change. He fell upon the mattress and rolled around in the plunder, like a dog joyously coating itself in the scent of rotting meat, picking up the change and dropping it so that it showered down over his near-naked body.
“I’m rich, bitch!” he shouted up at the 70s coke-swinger mirror mounted on the ceiling.
Richard strolled through the city, head bobbing, with a spring in his step. While passing a fruit cart, he, vanishing, picked up an apple and took a nice big juicy bite as the vendor, oblivious to the invisible Richard, shooed away a pair of skater kids loitering too close to the merchandise. Richard turned into a Sunglass Hut, then walked out a moment later wearing a pair of Ray-Bans, tag dangling by his nose. Passing a black hipster in a fedora and suspenders, he picked the fedora off the young man’s head and set it on his own. The hipster patted his head in disbelief, frantically looking around for the culprit. Richard kept on strolling, not missing a beat.
He entered the Heart Attack Café and took a seat at the table by the window. He checked his Timex: one minute before the hour. The server, Teddy, came to the table to clear some
dishes, not noticing the invisible Richard. Richard checked his watch again. As the second hand turned the hour, he materialized. Teddy looked up, almost dropping the dishes upon seeing Richard.
“I didn’t see you there,” said Teddy.
“I’ll take a cup of Kopi Luwak,” said Richard
“Your shift starts in like right now. Besides that shit’s like $80 a cup.”
Richard dropped a pile of small bills and coins on the table.
“Just bring it,” he said. “Keep the change.”
Teddy picked up the bills warily. “Whatever you say, man.”
A few minutes later, Teddy arrived with a cup of Kopi Luwak, setting it down in front of Richard then promptly returning to the bar. As luxurious steam rose from the coffee, Richard watched Teddy talking to the goateed café boss behind the bar then nodding over at Richard. The boss, face reddening with each step, walked over to Richard’s table, glowering down at him. Richard looked up and nonchalantly took a sip of the Kopi Luwak.
“I thought we’d already talked about your lateness,” said the café boss, barely concealing his rage. “If I wasn’t short-handed tonight, I’d put you on suspension.”
Richard, mid-sip, suddenly spat out the coffee, spraying primo bean-juice all over the café boss.
“This tastes like shit,” he said, wiping his mouth with the cloth napkin. “Total rip off, man.”
“That’s it, you’re fired,” said the café boss, whose rage had reached such an intensity that his voice came out as a faint whimper.
“I quit,” said Richard, spilling out the rest of the coffee onto the table. “Clean it up, bitch.”
“Teddy!” shrieked the café boss.
“On it!” said Teddy, rushing over with the mop as Richard got up from the table and strolled on out the door.
The Losers Club had the authentic atmosphere of an old dive bar, with the ripped vinyl stools, dirty concrete floor and vague urine smell, even though it was only a few years old. Richard stood at the bar nursing a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon when he was approached by the effeminate, pushing-50 Bobby, dressed in tight faux-suede pants, faux-gold Italo-disco chain and a polyester shirt open to the navel.
“I’m onto you, Richard,” he said, slithering up to the bar.
“What do you mean, like, you’re about to get on me? You better let me finish this beer first,” said Richard, looking him up and down. “You’re not all that anymore.”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“What do you want, Bobby?”
“I just want in on it.”
“And you’ll keep your mouth shut?” Richard smiled skeptically. “Right.”
“What are you doing with it?” Bobby asked, leaning back with his arms spread across the bar. “Other than stealing cheap drugs and fucking with people.”
“That’s about it,” said Richard.
“The sky’s the limit. Think big! Before the window closes,” said Bobby, cheeks flushed with inspiration. “You could rob an ATM!”
“That sounds boring.”
“Or a bank!”
“Even more boring. I’d have to get one of those dead president masks. Creepy.”
Bobby grabbed Richard’s shirt, practically crawling into his lap.
“Now you really are on me,” said Richard, trying to create some distance.
At that instant, Richard turned invisible. Astonished, Bobby released his grip, allowing Richard to escape out the door, which appeared to open and close by itself as Richard exited invisibly. Bobby turned to find the bartender looming over him.
“That’ll be a dollar fifty,” said the bartender.
Bobby looked at the PBR can and sighed. “Little fucker.”
In the alley behind CHEM-LAB, Richard found the maintenance door by the dumpsters and set upon it with a furious knocking. Dave soon appeared at the door, unleashing the familiar cacophony of screaming monkeys, baboons and assorted apes from inside the lab.
“I need some more of that Polly. ASAP,” said Richard, hands in the pockets of his sweater vest.
“Hey man, real sorry. I sold the last few pills to another customer.”
“What other customer?”
Dave shrugged. “Confidentiality and shit.”
“We had an exclusive deal,” Richard protested.
“We did?” said Dave, scratching his head. “I don’t remember that, exactly. The fact is I needed the bread. Times are tough. He was in the right place at the right time.”
“I’ll pay double what he did,” said Richard, throwing a big handful of dollar bills at him.
“What am I a stripper?”
“I’ll make it rain for days, bitch,” said Richard, hands in the air.
“I told you I’m fresh out. No joke. They keep that shit locked down. Tight. Come back in a couple days.”
Dave tried to shut the door. Richard blocked it with his foot.
“Just answer one question,” he said. “How does it work? It’s not just my body. It’s my clothes, my hat, practically anything I touch.”
“I have no idea,” Dave said, with no hesitation.
“You don’t even know what it does,” said Richard, laughing. “You still don’t know!”
“Hey man I told you I’m not a scientist.”
“By the way, I know who your mystery client is,” said Richard, touching his cheek. “I can still see the Cherry Lush lipstick mark.”
Dave folded his arms. “Nice try. Everybody knows Bobby wears Ruby Woo.”
Richard gave a smug little smile. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“Shit,” said Dave, face falling, as Richard turned and jogged off down the alley.
Richard lurked outside the entrance to the apartment building, standing just out of sight. When Bobby finally emerged, wearing a lavender scarf and a pair of skin-tight faux-calf skin pants, Richard followed from a distance. They went several blocks like that, with Bobby repeatedly checking his watch, until they arrived at a small crowded park with people relaxing on benches, playing chess, tanning on the lawn and so on. Bobby anxiously surveyed the scene before entering a small public restroom at the edge of the park. Richard leaned against a tree, waiting. A short time later, the restroom door appeared to open by itself. Richard looked around the park frantically until he began to observe things disappear, one after another:
A young mother’s Vera Bradley mini-hipster crossbody bag.
A ponytail wearing business man’s creature-from-the-black-lagoon smartphone.
A young dad’s vintage 50s lawn dart (disappearing in midair).
A suspender and bow-tie attired young man’s Exooter kick scooter.
Richard’s eyes went everywhere, trying to follow Bobby’s larcenous vapor trail as the invisible crime spree rapidly snaked its way through the park. Richard opened his bottle of Polly. There was one left. He popped his last pill, and, confident he hadn’t been detected by the prowling Bobby, quietly slipped away.
Bobby’s front door opened and closed as an invisible person entered his apartment.
Several minutes later, the door opened again, seemingly by itself. Then Bobby materialized for an instant in the doorway entering the apartment with his arms full of loot. He disappeared once more and the door appeared to close on its own. Re-materializing in the middle of the room, Bobby was in the process of setting his loot on the table—the mini-hipster crossbody bag, the creature-from-the-black-lagoon cell phone, the lawn dart, etc.—when he was tackled to the ground by an invisible assailant. He rolled across the floor, locked in combat with the invisible attacker and screaming bloody murder. Then Bobby disappeared as the fight continued, invisibly.
The lone would-be masturbator at the other end of the webcam located in the corner of the room watched all this in disbelief, as the epic brawl played itself out over several heart-pounding minutes characterized by an almost complete absence of visible action—long stretches of screaming, grunting and profane exclamation (“Get your hands off me, mother fucker!) during which there might be only the subtlest visual cue, for example, the sudden incremental movement of a chair, to suggest the violent contest taking place.
To the would-be masturbator, it looked like this:
A footrest moved suddenly.
A sofa pillow fell to the floor.
A coat stand tipped against the wall.
A lamp flew off an end table.
Richard materialized, administering a headlock to the invisible Bobby. Then Bobby materialized, head in Richard’s vise-like grip. Then both men turned invisible.
A chair tipped over.
Bobby materialized, flying across the room, then disappeared.
Richard materialized in the middle of the room, circling in fighting pose, trying to locate his quarry. The front door slowly creaked open. Richard made it over there in a flash, turning invisible as he ran. There was a loud gasp from the invisible Bobby as the door slammed shut.
The breakfast table turned over.
Bobby rematerialized, backed against the wall, trying to pry an invisible hand from his throat. He turned invisible.
Both men became visible rolling across on the floor, locked in combat. Bobby grabbed a fistful of Richard’s hair. Richard screamed and let go of Bobby, who desperately crab-walked away until he was backed against the wall.
“Leave me alone, man! What do you want?” cried Bobby.
“You know what I want,” said Richard.
“I don’t have anymore!”
“Bull shit. I guess that wasn’t some invisible little bitch that just tried to sneak out the door.”
“That was my last one!”
“Give me those pills or I’ll turn your ass in.”
Richard crawled toward him, murder in his eyes.
“We’ll split them!” Bobby cried, ripping the cap off the pill bottle.
“No can do. There’s only room in this town for one invisible hombre, capisce?”
“Fine, take them!”
Bobby threw a handful of pills at Richard, who quickly gathered them up.
“Enjoy it while it lasts. I sold one to a cook. He’s going to reverse engineer it and sell it dirt cheap. One day soon you’re gonna walk out the door, you’re not gonna see a single person out on the street.”
Richard stared at his reflection in the mirror over the mantle—face hot and red, neck vein pulsing, eyes of hate.
“You’ve changed, Richard,” said Bobby. “These powers of invisibility have really gone to your head.”
Richard watched as the reflection of his face slowly vanished from the mirror.
Hanging out on the corner, Richard checked out the cool kids (though truthfully many were well into middle age) who stood out like polished jewels among the muted pebbles and rough stones—this one bougie, that one basic-bitch—crowding the streets. And then it started to happen. The rockabilly hipster. The lumberjack hipster. The black guy with the black horn-rimmed glasses, fedora and suspenders. One by one they started to disappear, until those muted pebbles and rough stones were the only kinds of people he could see.
Richard checked his watch as the teeming masses—buttoned-up businessmen, jack-booted laborers, seniors in elastic trousers, moms in stretch pants pushing Cadillac strollers—crept past like a vast sluggish river.
“Won’t be long before it hits the mainstream.” He looked up from his watch with an expression of hard resolve. “Time for one last play.”
Wading through the protesters waving their signs and chanting slogans, Richard made his way around the side of the CHEM-LAB building, hopping the fence and jogging down the alley. Before he passed the dumpsters, the maintenance door opened—unleashing the familiar racket of screaming apes—and Dave came out hauling trash bags. As Dave heaved in the first bag, Richard crept around the dumpster and slipped inside the building, the door closing behind him. Dave threw in the rest of the trash then pulled out a pack of American Spirits and took a quick smoke break. When he turned to go back inside, he was surprised to find the door flying open, uncorking the hysterical screaming of the imprisoned apes, and Richard exiting post-haste.
“I don’t recommend going back in there, unless you’re the Nolan Ryan of feces throwing,” said Richard, brushing past Dave. “Shit’s about to get real, I’m talking straight up Invisible Planet of the Apes.”
Richard sprinted down the alley while Dave looked on, bewildered. “Invisible Planet of the Apes?” he called out, scratching his head.
As Richard reached the top of the fence he looked back just as Dave was hit by a freight train of invisible rampaging primates— chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, baboons, you name it, even the macaques and bonobos were in on it. They tossed him in the air like a rag doll, letting out wild orgiastic screams as they ripped his clothes to shreds.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” Dave screamed, his near-naked body whipping around spastically in the invisible primate tornado.
From atop the fence, Richard watched the shredded lab coat’s snowy confetti fall softly over the invisible maelstrom, then continued over the fence without another look back.
Back on the corner, Richard watched with mounting anticipation as the vast river of pedestrians— an old blue hair in a pink cat sweater and elastic pants, a fat cop with a mustache, a frat boy in a backwards baseball cap, a soccer mom in stretch pants and a ponytail sipping a Starbucks triple venti soy no-foam latte—ebbed and flowed along the sidewalk. Then all at once, just like that, they disappeared. Richard slowly turned around, taking in the empty streets.
And then he disappeared.