The Gardener Estate
by Brendan Detzner
Theo Gardener pretended to sleep under satin sheets on a giant red waterbed for about twelve hours, woke up, and was immediately hungry and horny; he curled up like an infant, his femurs pressing against his ribs and his skull pressing against his knees, so that his body looked like a pile of sticks under the fabric. He had no eyes to open, no eyelids to rub, no muscles to stretch. The transition from sleep to wakefulness was simply the moment he realized that he was conscious. He was still, and then he was moving.
His desk was on the opposite side of his bedroom. In between it and him was a black leather couch facing a quartet of giant flat screen televisions, each one taking up a different quadrant on the wall. The remote that controlled them was bolted to a small table next to the couch. Theo was seventy-five years old and the process of learning to control his home entertainment set-up had been fraught with complication, but he’d mostly gotten the hang of it. He pressed his proximal phalanx against a red button on the remote and the wall came to life, displaying, starting on the top left and moving clockwise, old Warner brother cartoons, a series of pornographic films in which large-breasted Asian women gave lewd massages, the finale of the film Cinema Paradiso, which was itself a montage of classic movie kisses, and finally a YouTube channel of puppies doing cute things. The audio was unconnected to any of these, and was playing “The Best of the Ronettes” collection.
He reached his desk. There were three buttons installed permanently on the wall to the side of it, each of which contacted one of the three most important people in his life. He pressed the button on the right. The music cut out as Theresa answered the phone. He asked about the status of his portfolio, and as usual everything was doing great, the ostrich farm was a big success, the penny stocks had almost all exploded. Anything Theodore did made money. He’d never pushed his gift to its limits, but he was pretty sure money would rain from the sky if he didn’t create other ways for it to reach him.
The middle button reached Big Jim, but Theodore didn’t press it. If there was a security problem Big Jim would get in touch with him, no news was good news. The button on the left reached Debbi. Of the three, Debbi was the one he would least want to do without.
“Are we ready for the party tonight, Debbi?”
“Yes Mr. Gardener. Everything is ready to go.” Tonight was Halloween night, which meant it was time for the annual Gardener Halloween Party. The Halloween party was a big deal.
“Excellent, Debbi. Send up a large box of Snickers bars, if you please. I also want a lap dance.”
The stripper and the candy arrived simultaneously a few minutes later. He sat on the couch and shoved one bar after another into his mouth. After a few chews each bite fell through the cavity behind his jaw, so that there was a fast-growing pile of them on the couch under his rib cage which the help already knew would require cleaning up in a few minutes. The stripper, who was twenty years old and a six-month veteran of this particular contract, was familiar with Mr. Gardener’s condition and knew what he liked. She tickled his sacrum, shook her ass in his face, pressed her breasts against his eye sockets. He sits back and split his attention equally between the girl and the wall. The “Best of the Ronettes” came to an end and “Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers” got started.
“Are you looking forward to the party tonight, Mr. Gardener?”
He was watching Bugs Bunny. “Absolutely,” he said, his mandible moving slightly out of sync with his voice. “The highlight of my year.” He ate another Snickers bar and sighed, not contentedly.
When the candy was done he dismissed the stripper, put on his bathrobe and left the room. The house was decorated in a style Theodore had shamelessly borrowed from his good friend Hugh Hefner. The walls were covered with a mixture of fine art and press clippings; the earlier clippings showed Theodore as a younger man, Theodore Gardener the socialite, the lady’s man, the big spender that burnt recklessly and scandalously through his inheritance until there was almost none left. And his favorite, Theodore Gardener the explorer, Theodore Gardener with the machete and the hat, plumbing the depths of the rainforest searching for hidden treasure.
The others weren’t as much fun to look at. Theodore had always had a good relationship with the tabloids. “Skeleton Billionaire Hides in Country Estate,” “Skeleton Billionaire Divorces Hooker Again”. As long as he kept his name in the paper next to Bat Boy and Elvis Presley’s ghost, and as long as he kept his public appearances to a minimum, people didn’t take the stories too seriously. Nobody on his staff cared what he looked like, he paid too well for that, and as far as most other people were concerned he was either a media invention or an eccentric who wore a costume.
Inviting people where they could see him in person was dicey. But it didn’t matter. This was the only day all year he felt sort of normal. The risk was the risk, what it cost was what it cost.
Somewhere in between the time that he left his bedroom and the time he arrived downstairs in the ballroom, it started raining. The streamers and the gift bags were already in place; the window of the shark tank shone and sparkled. The rain became a storm. The band arrived on time and set up, the extra guards were being briefed by Big Jim in the garage, the caterers were getting set up in the kitchen. The dancers were an hour late. They got into costume- this year’s theme was “Dead Presidents,” they all wore masks.
The storm continued. The party was set to start in twenty minutes. There were no guests yet but that was not unexpected, nobody who was anybody arrived sooner than an hour late. Theodore tracked down Debbi in the Games Room and asked about reservations. Many of the guests had called to cancel. It was all over the news; the roads were not safe to travel.
Theodore was slowly overcome by a feeling of gnawing dissatisfaction. He retreated to the balcony.
“Nachos!” he shouted.
A pair of servants quickly materialized, one with a plate of nachos and one with a plastic mat, which he put down on the floor, and some cleaning supplies. Theodore stepped forward onto the mat. The mat underneath him was quickly piled with crumbs and cheese and tomatoes. Theodore ranted while he ate. “This is the social event of the goddamn season, you don’t ditch the Gardener Halloween party because of a little goddamn hail, I used to climb mountains during monsoon season…”
He left, and the servants worked together to clean the carpet around the edges of the mat. He went down to the dance floor. Last year there had been almost a hundred guests at this point. At the moment, there were ten people milling around the ballroom who had not been paid to be there. His demeanor changed almost instantly in the presence of his guests.
“Holy guacamole, look at these beautiful people, thank you so much for coming, hey, pal, you’re looking sharp, you’re looking gorgeous my dear, you guys made the right decision, this is going to be a legendary evening, you’re gonna tell your kids about this, I mean you might skip the details, but…”
He chatted with them all briefly. Eight men, two women. Three admirers of his from the Internet, plus the girlfriend of the ringleader. Five people who worked for him and wanted to suck up. And number ten. Who was a ten, as it happened. She’d made her way to the dance floor as soon as she’d arrived, and she was there now, moving. Blonde, six feet tall with hips and toned pale legs and a little black dress that wrapped around the former and showed off the later.
This woman had no reason for being here, for dancing like she was dancing. And she was exactly, perfectly Theodore’s type, from her head to her toes. She had been chosen by someone intimately familiar with the smallest details of his taste.
She was a distraction.
Big Jim was standing in the corner with his tree trunk arms folded over his protruding steroid chest, still looking like the bouncer he no longer was. Theodore called him over, whispered in his ear. Big Jim nodded and disappeared. Theodore made his way to the dance floor.
“Sweetheart, you honor me with your presence… and with that, you’re definitely honoring me with that… goodness gracious, I’m not sure how to respond…”
About twenty minutes later Big Jim came back. Theodore nodded, gallantly kissed the blonde’s hand, and excused himself.
Theodore’s house had a vault, which had a vault, which had a vault. Theodore and Big Jim made their way to the inner chamber.
Theodore punched in the pass code and said his name. The gate rose slowly. Theodore went in and Jim stayed outside.
Inside was a glass box on a stone pedestal, one panel of which was broken. The box contained a clay pot with a symbol engraved in the side of it.
Debbi was lying on her stomach in front of the pedestal, clutching her ribs and moaning.
“Sweetheart, I don’t mean to kick you when you’re not doing so hot, but there’s a reason my security person is not also the person who gets me strippers and chocolate cake.”
She didn’t answer, she kept moaning.
“You touched it. They told me not to touch it. They also told me not to go into the sacred cave, and to stay away from the local girls. Monks, bald guys in orange robes.”
He stood up and tapped on the engraving. “It’s a hunger spirit. That’s what it means. I didn’t know what a hunger spirit does.” He crouched back down and gently pulled Debbi’s right hand from her body. The flesh was already starting to peel back from the tips of her fingertips.
“You’ll be immortal. And things are going to go right for you financially; you won’t even be able to help it. You’ll have everything you could possibly want. So if the idea behind your little caper was to figure out the secret of my success, you got it.
“But it’ll all be sand on your tongue. You’ll be tired and won’t be able to rest, hungry and you won’t have a stomach to fill. I’ve tried everything a person can do that will make them smile, gasp, twitch, cum, or giggle.
“In fact, there’s only one indulgence I haven’t been making a habit of.
He grabbed her neck with both hands and squeezed. She fought and then stopped fighting, fell limp. The skin and muscle on her right arm was gone up to her elbow, but that was as far as it had gotten. She was dead.
The gate closed automatically as he left.
“We’re gonna have something to feed the sharks after the party.”
Big Jim silently acknowledged him.
Theodore went back upstairs. The band was playing but the guests had all gone home. He dismissed the entertainment. He sat down in his chair and listened to his empty house.
He got bored. He made a phone call.
“Delivery. Six extra-large thin crust.” He gave his address.
“What do you want on them?”
“Everything,” he said. He laughed quietly. “I want everything.”
Issue #3 Contents
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY
Kirsten Imani Kasai
A Heart So Pure
Slips of Yew
The Anointed One
The Flustered Husband’s Guide to Spices
The Gallows Tree
The Gardener Estate
When You Love Someone
Brendan Detzner lives, works, and writes in Chicago. His work is sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and usually at least a little strange. His work has appeared in Chizine, Pseudopod, One Buck Horror, and will be appearing in the upcoming “Exigencies” anthology from Dark House Press. He runs the monthly reading series Bad Grammar Theater. You can find out about that at www.badgrammartheater.com, and keep up with his work generally at www.brendandetzner.com.and mom being indifferent. She never even glanced at the garage.