Way back at the start of this project, back before Epp brought a cathedral crashing down, back before Matthew smoked his first cigar, before Jacob checked out or Dorian chased his wife into the past, back before all of that there was “Liquid Calling.”
A simple tale of a hit man, a conspiracy theory to spread Alzheimer’s and a young man named Smith. For a lot of people this story is a favorite and the twisty plot and clear writing put it pretty high up on my list as well. Taken away from this project I think I’d still like this story, but within the confines of “26 Stories” Smith and Morzeny’s battle against death and each other took on a lot more weight.
This whole concept always seems so simple when I think about it: I write stories; you read the stories; if you like them you tell some friends. And we go from there.
But then things go all crazy. Because I’m out here in the wilds of the internet, and at times it doesn’t seem like the internet. It doesn’t seem like the internet at all. It seems like the wild west. I’m in some rustic town with no law. Madmen and lunatics own the streets and whore houses outnumber farmhouses by about a hundred to one. All the major players from back east, well they all have representation here, but all those representatives do is fly the company colors and hope for a transfer back to the big city where things are really happening. And there are gold in the hills all around, or so we’ve all been told. We have stories of those who have struck deep rich veins of the stuff. But after awhile you begin to wonder how much of those stories are myth because when you take a real good look around it seems that all of the deals being cut out here revolve around gambling or sex. And there are no rules. And there are no plans. And I’m standing in the middle of the muddy road as gunslingers and stagecoaches and drunks and whores and jesters and gamblers roll past, holding up my little stories like some embattled preacher, trying to bring my brand of literature to this land.
Although since I’m talking about literature instead of religion, maybe I’m not the embattled preacher. I guess that makes me the doe-eyed schoolmarm.
Maybe I shouldn’t push this metaphor too far.
The fact is, of course, that since diving into the internet I’ve come across a number of blogs that I really do love to read, and a lot of sites written with wit and intelligence, and works of art that have no classification but still take my breath away. So I know it’s not all that bad.
But still, sometimes when I look back over my shoulder I don’t see the world wide web. I see Dodge City.
There have been any number of times over the past year that I’ve thought back on Smith and Morzeny sitting in that apartment, both mortally wounded, neither wanting to budge a millimeter. And I would think about one of my favorite lines to come out of Smith’s mouth. And what was weird was that after enough time and enough stories had gone by, my favorite line of Smith’s really started to seem like something someone else had said: “I prefer to be underestimated.”
And it became my motto. Mind you, there’s a fine line between “I prefer to be underestimated,” and “I’m pretending that this is where I want to be because I screw everything up and wind up on the losing end naturally so I might as well act like I meant it.” So I never started saying Smith’s line out loud or anything. Never took it too deep to heart. Never printed it up and taped it to my wall. No, it just became something to repeat to myself when it was Monday night, I had no story, the stats were down and I was wondering what life as a banker would be like.
Moment number three. Smith gives me a motto:
Morzeny rolled his cigarette slowly between his thumb and first finger. His arm was settling into a slow, deep, throb. Had he not been trained for this he knew he’d be going to pieces. “You’re not what you appear to be,” Morzeny said.
“I’m not what I appear to be?” Smith said, gritting his teeth with the effort of talking louder than a whisper.
“Your dirty sweatshirt, your stupid haircut, your head bobbing walk, your annoying teenager attitude, it’s all an act, isn’t it?”
Smith’s eyes glared hard for a second, then his head rolled back, away from Morzeny, and Morzeny knew he had finally figured Smith out.
“I prefer to be underestimated,” Smith said.