I am a fucking genius. The only one on Long Island, guaranteed. Yes, there are scientists at Brookhaven, and at Stony Brook, charming quarks. Clever, and mathematically minded, but not geniuses. All sorts of millionaires roar across the island on the Cannonball for Friday happy hour in Amstagansett in the summertime, but they were slaves to an abstraction smaller than themselves, and thus disqualified. There probably might have been a lone kook or two living in some moldy clapboard house on the shore who might almost qualify as genius. I knew I was the only genius because I was still fucking alive. Bernstein, who was a scientist, and a millionaire, and more recently a lone kook, wasn't. He was stretched across the 70s shag rug, bright orange except where his blood had pooled, in his living room. I made a note of it. The lights were on, and so was the little black and white television he kept balanced atop a milk crate, tuned to TV-55. Bernstein didn't have cable. On the screen, it was the usual news — East Germans gathered up by der Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, chanting, "Wir bleiben hier." The gun was near Bernstein's right hand, and chunks of his skull, and hair, and brains, did splay off to the left. Whoever killed him probably thought that the cops would be too stupid, and too relieved, to examine the scene closely. But Bernstein was left-handed, and anyone who took the time to open his journals and read his many writings on Marxism and the occult, a few of which he once shared with me, would have spotted that right away. On the other hand, on the sinister hand, if you get me, nobody ever lost money betting against the cops. Local fruitcake who writes letters to the community newspaper demanding that the North Shore proletariat rise up to defend the gains of October sees the Eastern Bloc crumble on TV, takes off his pants and shoots himself in the head. Case closed: happens all the time.
Bernstein lived in a little two-room shed right on the southern part of Mount Sinai Harbor. He could have sold it and been rich, but he didn't care about such things. He liked the swamp, the hills, the fingery tree branches in the late autumn. Bernstein had once read a poem, an original composition, to that effect at the Good Read Book Stop. That was in May, when I decided to put him on my route. It was an extremely mediocre poem, but I liked Bernstein anyway.
I thought about jimmying the lock and helping myself to some of Bernstein's rarer books and papers — he had a photocopy of the original handwritten Liber AL vel Legis he'd gotten from a friend in Berkeley — but for a moment my Will left me and I ran, scared, back home, the muck of the swampy backyard slurping against my Docs as if to keep me there.
What is there to say about Bernstein? He was brilliant. A polyglot, an economist, a talented magician, a prolific correspondent. Instead of a refrigerator and oven, he had three huge file cabinets in his kitchen, filled with carbons of the letters he sent to statesmen, wizards, revolutionaries, and artists. And he was perceptive enough to sense me watching him. Nobody had ever caught me before, but he immediately knew I was outside watching him. The second night I visited him, he marched over to the window. I ducked. He drew the shade and then turned on a bright light. On the grass before me I read the words no key needed. I turned around and saw the letters, backwards and made of black tape, on the shade. I made to run, but he slammed his fist against the wall and opened the shade. So I walked around to the front and entered the unlocked door. My look was so distinctive that running was useless anyway.
"What are you called?" he asked me.
"Aimee," I said. It was the first name that came to mind.
He scowled and said, "Amaranth it is."
"Bloom, O ye Amaranths! bloom for whom ye may," he said. "For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!" He raised a finger and said, "Coleridge!" Then he told me to sit down. My boots had steel toes. I had a ring with spike on it in my pocket, and put my hand in my pocket just in case, but I sat down.
Bernstein had a film projector — that was the light he had used — and whipped the sheet from his couch and showed me a Super-8 print of an old weird black and white film called "Meshes of the Afternoon." It was strange and short, like an MTV video, except silent and about...I still don't know. It was like a dream, I guess. Not like a dream sequence in an ordinary Hollywood movie, but like an actual dream. Maya Deren, the director and "star" was a commie gone occultist too. She was beautiful, with a haystack of black curls. Why wouldn't the lwa want to ride her, kiss her till her lips were chapped and bleeding? Bernstein had a nice cock and paid me to suck it. I was not a whore, though. I just needed the money, and was patient with him, not like a whore would be. It always took him hours to get off. He hummed to himself, patted the bald side of my head, murmured the magic words, then let his ov into my mouth. Bernstein would have given me anything I wanted for nothing in return, but then I would have really been his whore, his slave, dependent on him the way a sheep is on its shepherd. He was a good yogi, but couldn't stretch far enough to suck his own dick. So it was commerce without capital for him, magick without tears for me. He never tried to touch me, or make me get naked. We weren't boyfriend and girlfriend, or mentor and protégé. Maybe I was his Scarlet Woman, perhaps he was my Holy Guardian Angel, but in the final analysis, we were comrades, cadre in an Imaginary Party.
I lived with my grandmother and given my haircut and sartorial choices — punk as fuck, studs and ripped everything, a bright orange mohawk and I didn't give a fuck about my "figure" either — I wasn't going to get a job at the Smith Haven Mall, or even Farpoint Comics. My mother was dead, my father's new wife was a crackpipe and he was better at sucking that than I was at sucking cock. When Maya walked into a room to see herself sleeping on a recliner, I felt something important. When I saw her fling herself against first one wall, then another, as she tried to climb up a flight of crooked, swaying steps, I knew what it was. For so long my other world, my alternative existence, was in Manhattan. Whenever I could, I'd get out to the city on the LIRR. Two hours on the train and then a quick stride into the Village, to Bleecker Bob's Records, St. Mark's Bookshop, a vegetarian bakery, shawarma, the dirty and foul Mars Bar where I learned to drink. But all I was doing was buying, then leaving. I was the worst sort of commodity fetishist; in trying to consume the life I wanted, all I was eating was my own slow death. With Bernstein, I realized that I could make my life my own, on Long Island or anywhere else. Wir bleiben hier. We are staying here.
But someone killed my Bernstein, and ruined absolutely everything. But I am a fucking genius, and I was determined to find out who killed Bernstein and bring them to ...
No, not to justice. To something else.
From Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas. Copyright 2013 by Nick Mamatas. Excerpted by permission of Dark Horse.