The flavor of a good gin should never be masked.

            That’s why I love gin so much.  It’s so honest.  Even a classless rube would not drink it with cola.  Only the ignorant mix it with 7-Up.  It doesn’t belong in orange juice or tomato.  It should only be combined with the moisture of the human mouth.

            Joseph Francis Kensington had liked it with tonic.  Skip, the bartender at the party, had told me.  If you’re nice to a bartender, they will never let you down.  Skip never forgot a good tipper like me, or an asshole like Kensington.  I mean, what kind of jerk grabs and chugs a complete stranger’s drink?  You’d think he would have had more class than that.  I’d seen Kensington grab Mattie’s drink at the Dreamy Fish.  He had lapped up Val’s champagne  at one uncomfortable point on their dinner date.

            That was the key; discomfort.  When Kensington was in the company of women, the slightest awkward moment, embarassment, or episode of excessive anxiety, and he grabbed drinks.  It wasn’t rude.  After all, he was rich.  Kensington grabbed the nearest booze as a reflex.  The girls’ little Viagra tease at the banquet had been quite enough to trigger him.  I just made sure I had his favorite drink within his reach at the proper moment.

            When the D.A. woke up that Sunday morning after the party he felt terrible.  It was the worst hangover he had ever had.  He forced himself to sit up on the edge of his bed.  His wife had a separate bedroom.  She wasn’t there to comfort him.  Though I doubt she would have, even had she been there.

            Kensington looked at his pillow.  He ran his hands through his hair.  It was falling out in large clumps.  The headache was getting worse.  He felt like he needed to throw up.  He lurched to his feet.

            The pain in his legs hit like a sledgehammer.  He dropped onto the antique Persian rug, and his bowels let go when he hit the floor.  There was a fire inside him.  He could hardly breathe.  It was worse than fire.  He knew he was covered with his own feces, and he was angry.  He was going to be Governor.  He was going to be Governor.  He was going to be… he was scared.  His mind was looping, and the pain was napalm and scorpions.  His mind was going.  Kensington was flat on his back.  He couldn’t move his legs.  They were tucked under him, twisted like Terri’s had been when they found her.  He felt urine leaking across his belly and flowing down towards his chest.

            Joseph Kensington was not in the best of physical shape.  He had let himself go after his days as an Assumption College football star.  He had high blood pressure.  His bad cholesterol level was off the charts, and he was on a medicine cabinet full of medications way beyond Viagra.  He was dying there, and all he could think of was endlessly repeating inside his burning brain.  “I am on a rug.  I am on a rug.  I am…”

            If I regret anything, it’s that Joseph Kensington probably never knew why he was dying.  Knowing what I know about him, he didn’t think about all the naked little boys.  They were just amusements.  If they turned into problems, the families could be dealt with.  Terri was just a whore who threatened his orderly ascension to power by dabbling in places where her kind was not allowed – a whore that he never touched. 

Terri was a useful employee – a model for his pretentious art, a connection.  She could supply the drugs Kensington needed after the Dr. Robinson Ativan pipeline dried up.  Mattie had told me all about her husband’s theft and the dust-up that followed.

Did Kensington feel the wall of his stomach as it dissolved?  I wonder what kind of pain that must have caused.  Was the feeling anything like the fear Terri felt when Kensington held the old drug charge over her head?  An old indictment in the Manila envelope that the very cute lesbian tried to deliver to Sally at Val’s showed me what weapon Kensington had used to control Terri.  She’d gotten him the drugs.  She didn’t know how he used them.

In the end, she was just a bit of trash for his people to dispose.  He thought Redlands was his “employee” to be used as he thought fit, Shuldik a glorified chaplain of his vast personal chapel.  If Torey had to be killed to recover the tape, unfortunate, but the bigger picture had to be considered.  All those other lives were simply trivial details.

I’ve been told by people who should know, that the brain does not have any pain nerves.  They have described to me how, after a skull is drilled through and the plug of bone is removed, it’s possible to stick a screwdriver into the warm, gray, gelatin that is the brain and stir it up like an old stale cup of vanilla pudding without the patient feeling the slightest twinge of discomfort – other than his receding memories, personality, and self awareness, that is. 

Is that what Kensington was feeling?

Or thallium, being the type of chemical that it is, seeping into synapses and scrambling all the signals, might it not mimic the pain of an amputation in the primitive, dragon brainstem where real sensations are received and analyzed?  Just maybe, Kensington’s brain thought its legs were being cut off, its eyes punctured, its genitals being cauterized by a fire hotter than phosphorus.  Maybe.

            I wish all the boys he hurt over the years could have somehow known how he was suffering at that moment.  Torey and the others at St. Philomena – and still more boys I would never know of.  I did know about the boy at Kensington’s high school.  Sally’s cute friend had delivered that sealed record as well.  It was all there — the boy that Kensington sodomized with a broom handle — the trouble that sent him to Assumption, and into Doug Hunter’s life.  By the time I read the file, I had already killed Kensington.  I didn’t need the confirmation.  I’m not a policeman.  I didn’t have to prove anything.

            If portions of his life flashed in front of his cloudy eyes, I’m sad to say that most of them were probably pleasant – at first.  The taste of a fine wine, perhaps.  A sunny day on the boat.  The feel of a calves-leather chair.  The sound of the Mozart Requiem in St. Martin-of-the-Fields.  London.  Shopping.  A fine cologne.

            His bowels were emptying their fluids onto the floor of his beadroom.  His stomach spasmed and projectile vomit splashed onto the moldings at the base of his bedroom wall.  The smell of it all would be quite upsetting to whoever discovered his pain-tangled corpse.  In his brain, only the most primitive of olfactory signals were still weakly sparking across the scorched synapses.  But odor speaks with the strongest voice in the memory, and Kensington must have been tortured by the fetid smell.

            In his addled conciousness he remembered  — the stench of incense in a church built with his family’s accumulated money, the overpowering reek of molasses, the sour musk of all the whores he had created, sweat in a college locker room, dust in an old dormitory hallway, the stink of a young boy’s fear – all the perfumes of his sins.

            He must have wanted to escape all the rich fragrances of his dying.  He must have remembered the bottle on his bathroom dressing table — such a stylish crystal bottle.  Tabarone Cologne, by Creed.  Ironic, Creed.  Tabarone, an exclusive scent.  Kensington had used it all of his life.  It was, according to the advertisements, “The first choice of the Power Elite.”   He even gave it as gifts to his most treasured servants.  The manufacturer describes the cologne as a very sensual fragrance with the rich notes of young tobacco leaves, green tea, bergamot, and ginger.  Ginger.  Ginger snaps.  Fresh cookies in the oven.  Ginger.  Ginger.  Ginger.  Did Kensington smell the ginger at the end?  I hope he smelled his own shit.

            I would have shouted Doug Hunter’s name in his ear if I had been there.  I would have screamed Torey’s name out until my throat was raw.  But it was impossible.  I was in church, holding my son’s hand.  A gun was going off at the exact moment that Kensington’s throat finally swelled enough to cut off the last of the stinking air around him.  His chest heaved, but there was not enough strength left in his diaphram to push through the blockage.

            His hands had closed — the tendons shrinking and curling his fingers painfully tight across the palms of his hands, with all the pressure of iron bands.  The big purple star garnet ring was cutting through the skin of his distorted finger.  There was just a hint of red blood on his whitening flesh. 

            As Joseph Francis Kensington started to convulse, his eyes surely could have seen the painting across from his bed — a monstrosity of distorted breasts, psuedo-cubist legs, and a book clutched in a woman’s hands labeled “Canterbury Tales.”  It would be the last thing he saw.  His obscene rendering of Theresa Header looked down on him.  The only thing he got right about her were the eyes.  She stared into his rapidly clouding consciousness.  A shudder and a final gasp bubbled out of his gaping mouth.  Perhaps he read the title as he died.  The bronze plaque was engraved:  “Nude with Chaucer.”

I never really knew the man personally.  But I am familiar with Kensington’s bedroom, and his bathroom — very familiar.  I needed to see the place it would happen.  I needed to know.  I went there the day I borrowed the thallium from the Amalgamated Lead Refinery; the factory once owned by the Kensington family.  It had poisoned Vaporville.  Karma can be funny sometimes.

            Is that actually how it all happened?  In my head, yes.  That’s what happened in my world.  Those are the images I choose to “remember.”  I’ll stick to that story.  That’s how I want it to have been.

            Was it justice?  That’s a stupid question.  Monsignor Leo Shuldik was laying in a pool of his own brains on a church’s cold marble floor.  Officer James Redlands was draped over a communion rail with a hole in his chest.  Joseph Francis Kensington was a half-dissolved mass of twisted flesh and fat on a very nice carpet.  Whether or not the equitable and fair laws established by the people and government of Tirawa, the state, or the nation could have been brought to bear on those men is utterly irrelevant to me.

            I am sorry that Lonnie got caught up in the horror.  I accept my responsibility for putting Father Corleone in a position where he might have been slaughtered as well.  I am sorry that what I needed to do became more important than proving Mikey innocent.  I am ashamed that I abandoned my brother.  I regret having lied to Val and having hidden my intentions from her and Vandy.  I love them both.  I betrayed them all in one manner or another.  I used them.  No one should be surprised.

            That’s what I do.


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