Procession of the Dead (The City)

cap huchuy pocoy

If The Cardinal pinched the cheeks of his arse, the walls of the city bruised. They were that close, Siamese twins, joined by a wretched, twisted soul.

He dominated my thoughts as the train chewed through the suburbs, wormed past the warehouses and factories, then slowly braved the shadows of a graveyard of skyscrapers. Enthralled, I pressed my nose to the filthy window and caught a glimpse of Party Central. A brief flash of monstrous majesty, then the gloom claimed all and it was gone. That was where he worked, lived, slept and decided the fate of his cringing millions. Party Central—the heart of the city.

Stories about The Cardinal were as legion as the corpses buried in the city’s concrete foundations. Some were outlandish, some cruel, some spectacular. Like the day he played a pope at chess and won a couple of countries. The president who spent forty days and nights prostrate on the doorsteps of Party Central in supplication for having angered The Cardinal. The actor who was guaranteed an Academy Award if he kissed The Cardinal’s ass. The suicide bomber who froze at the last moment when The Cardinal shot him an icy look—they say he cried as he was led away, finger pressed hard on the detonator, unable to release it until he was alone.

The one that came to mind as the train slowed and switched tracks was a minor tale, but entertaining, insightful and, unlike a lot of the myths, probably true.

One day a messenger arrived with an important missive from a prince of some oil-rich kingdom. He was escorted to the fifteenth floor for a personal meeting with The Cardinal. This was no mere courier—he was a member of the royal’s loyal cabinet, a carefully chosen envoy. He went in and started speaking, eyes to the floor, as was the custom in his country. After a while he glanced up at his host and stopped in shock. The Cardinal was listening but he was also being blown by a hooker. The Cardinal frowned when the messenger stopped and told him to continue. He did but falteringly, stuttering, unable to take his eyes off the naked whore going down on the big boss.

The Cardinal quickly lost patience and told the mumbler to leave. The messenger took offense and launched into a scolding tirade. The Cardinal lost his rhythm and shot out of his chair, bellowing like a bull. He crossed the room, grabbed the messenger by the lapels and tossed him headfirst out of the window. He sent a note to the prince, telling him not to send any more fools his way, and an invoice to cover the expense of cleaning the mess on the pavement.

It was the type of cheap story you heard at every newsstand in the city. But I loved it anyway. I loved all of the stories. They were why I’d come here—to emulate The Cardinal and maybe one day build my own sprawling empire of sweet, sinister sin.

The sky was gray when I alighted from the train and was enfolded by the arms of the city and its guardian Cardinal. I stood my ground a few minutes, letting my fellow passengers stream past, a solitary rock in the river of disembarkation. I tried isolating specific sights, smells and sounds but my eyes, nose and ears kept flicking every which way, taking in everything, focusing on nothing. Only the taste stood out, of dry diesel, hot plastic and wood sap. Bitter but oddly pleasant at the same time.

As the last few stragglers passed from sight I decided it was time to