Shaken from the encounter with Gottfried Benn, and broke after he took my three twenties, I’m skulking around near the center of town, kicking litter, looking at some of what sticks to the toes of my sneakers, when Fiscal Steven walks by, dangling a rental car key from his outstretched index finger, his thumb way up in the air like he’s miming a gun. I’ve never seen him without Rigid Steve by his side, and, as far as I know, I’ve never seen his hand before.

 

This thought leads to thoughts about local duos more generally, and then he’s upon me, having already begun explaining something whose beginnings I’ve missed.

 

” … and so I have my hands full getting everything ready. Putting the books in order, etc. He’ll have questions that I’ll want to have answers ready for, if you know what I’m saying. It’ll take you something like half an hour, tops. I’ll pay you, let’s see” — fumbling through his wallet — “sixty bucks?” I picture Gottfried Benn coming back, which I am certain he sooner or later will, so, thinking maybe a drive would do me well anyway, I accept.

 

“Where’s the car?” I ask, as Fiscal Steven hands me the key.

 

“Fuck should I know?” he replies, with a half smile, turning away. “When you see Industry Ed,” he calls, a hundred feet away by now. I stop paying attention before catching the rest of that phrase.

 

I scope out a few cars, holding the key up near them as if the grooves on the metal and the shape of the car might somehow correspond to one another in a way visible to the naked eye, and then I read the license plate number printed on the rental car keychain, and get in the car that has that number on its actual plates, parked nearby. “It’s some kind of Jetta,” as the ads used to say.

 

Driving toward the onramp to the highway, following signs for the airport.

 

I pass some kids and junkies and dogs huddled up at one of the bus stops, frozen in place into a kind of folkloric tableau, like they’re made of wood, posed behind a hand-painted sign reading “Gepetto’s Workshop, Open to Visitors TH 11-2.”

 

As I drive, I think, “It’s doing me well to take a drive.” Then I’m at the airport, drinking a Douwe Egberts, watching the luggage spill onto the carousel, empathizing with the people whose luggage will surely not arrive.

 

I’m holding a sign that reads “Industry Ed + Carla Ropes,” which I found propped in the backseat of the car.

 

In this condition, a giant red-faced, mustachioed man in khakis and a woman in a blue pantsuit wearing a straw hat come my way, and nod at my sign. Since I can’t read it where I stand, I’ve forgotten what it says. I just nod back, and feel the airport receding and a dream of an airport coming closer. I try to warn it back.

 

Industry Ed holds his hand out to mine, and I reach out to his, despite an instinct that, a moment from now, I will wish I’d listened to. When our hands make contact I feel a coldness and a sharpness coursing from fingertips to wrist, spreading apart my fingers like breaking up shrimp frozen in a block. I growl, but Industry Ed is talking loud enough to drown me out. “Little trick I learned on my travels,” he says, I suppose amicably. And then comes the first laugh.

 

My hand is turning yellow and foamy, and then the yellow starts to bleed out, leaving a grayish clearness in its place. I can see the bones now, black-looking and veiny. The fingers have swollen in circumference and shrunken in length, so that their overall mass may have been conserved. It feels like some joke store modeling spray has been sprayed all over where my hand used to be, wires jammed up and down, front to back, to hold the goop in place.

 

“What’s your name anyways, son?” asks Industry Ed. “Dead Hand?” He laughs so loud that others in the luggage area turn to look, and Carla Ropes rolls her eyes in a wide loop. I see that I’ve spilled my Douwe Egberts, and someone is now mopping it up.

 

Both of them seem put off that I haven’t offered to take their luggage, but I just swallow several times and think of a dream I had once where I picked up Lars von Trier at the airport during a blizzard and then drove him and his whole entourage into a snowbank, and we were only rescued when someone pointed out that von Trier never ever flies, so the whole thing became, suddenly and thankfully, moot.

 

Now I’m driving with Industry Ed up front and Carla Ropes in the back, looking through some files from her briefcase. I notice that there are giant “Welcome Home Industry Ed!” signs all along the highway leading into town. “Every town thinks I’m from there,” he chuckles, watching with amusement as I try to drive with my dead hand. “What do you do for fun in this town, Dead Hand?”

 

I’m imagining the story I’ll tell to the people I know, of how I went to meet him at the airport and he killed my hand.

 

But it doesn’t happen like this.

 

I spend most of the night with him in the various bars and taverns of Dodge City. Each time, to growing audiences, he tells the story of how he went to meet me at the airport and, when I arrived, he witnessed the disaster that had befallen my hand on my travels.

 

“Poor Dead Hand,” he says, shaking his head, “something weird clearly happened to him out there. Let’s show him how we take care of the afflicted here in Dodge City!!”

 

Rounds of toasts compound one another. “Welcome to Dodge City, Dead Hand!” they chant, none louder than Industry Ed, a native son if ever there was one.

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