Norman sat on a bench eating his lunch, a soggy tomato and cheese sandwich, and ignored the voice beckoning from the nearby alley.
Norman strained to see the owner of the voice out of the corner of his eye, but they were behind him. He bit into his sandwich and chewed despite the awful taste.
This time the voice was loud and clear, brash in a way one would not associate with an alley. Alleys conveyed whispers, secrets, and stealth. This voice dispelled any notion of stealth and secrecy. This voice commanded one to turn around. This voice demanded acknowledgement.
Norman turned about expecting to see someone like a junkie in rags or a tough from a film noir. Instead he saw, while still clutching the soggy sandwich, a rhinoceros. Sitting atop the rhino’s back was a monkey. On top of both their heads were bowler hats.
“Come here, Norman,” said the rhinoceros.
“We’re not going to hurt you. We’re friends, Norman. Friends you didn’t know you had,” said the monkey while waving his long arms above his head.
Norman stopped chewing and swallowed the half-masticated bite. He was, simply, unsure what to do. He could get up and leave. He could turn away and continue eating his sandwich.
“Come over here,” said the rhino.
Norman, being Norman, got up and approached the mismatched beasts with matching hats.
“You see, Davidoff. I told you he could speak,” said the monkey to the rhinoceros.
The rhinoceros snorted and sprayed snot that speckled Norman’s shoes.
“The jury’s still out.”
Norman took another bite out of his sandwich and stared at the two. His lack of reaction concerned the monkey who furrowed his brow and stood up on the rhinoceros’s back.
“Excuse me. We call you over here and ignore you while we argue.”
“We were talking about him, so we weren’t exactly ignoring him,” said Davidoff.
“Then we’re even ruder than I believed. Allow me to introduce ourselves. My name is Burberry, Burberry the monkey. My esteemed colleague here is Davidoff. Davidoff the mighty rhinoceros. For our collective entity, that is the unit that makes up the two us, the monkey and the rhinoceros, we call ourselves The Corrective Collective.”
Norman swallowed another bite. He wondered why he was not upset by this back-alley conversation with a monkey wearing a hat and a rhinoceros wearing a hat.
“My name is,” stared Norman but Burberry cut him off.
“Your name is Norman Smith. Yes, Norman we’re aware of who you are.”
“Or the lack of who you are,” Davidoff chimed in.
“The lack of who I am?”
Burberry looked miffed for a moment before continuing.
“Not exactly the most delicate way to put it but yes, the lack of whom you are. Since my presentation has been interrupted, I’ll have to improvise.”
Burberry jumped and started screeching. Davidoff closed his eyes and shook his head.
“This happens from time to time,” explained Davidoff. “Despite all the modifications there’s certain things that are just so innate to our particular species that we can’t help but give into them. We sometimes have to let nature take its course.”
“I see,” said Norman.
“Wow. Amazing. So, everything’s crystal clear then,” Davidoff quipped. “I must apologize for misjudging you. You have wizard like insight.”
Norman felt unsure how to respond. He took another bite of his sandwich only to discover he had finished it all. He let his arms hang limp before folding them across his chest and furrowing his chin into his chest. Davidoff did not say another word till Burberry stopped his jumping around and cavorting.
“Are we done up there?”
“Whew. Yes, I believe so. Sorry about that old man you know how it is?”
“I do, but I don’t defecate all over your back.”
Burberry looked about for any signs of his feces on his good friend’s back.
“Ah good, the coast is clear,” said Burberry.
“Still better than having birds up there all day,” said Davidoff to himself.
“Okay, now, where were we? Oh yes, Norman Smith. Plain old Norman Smith. Punching bag of humanity. Cuckold of mankind. Doormat of fate. Content to be mistreated than do anything about. it.”
Norman looked up as Burberry recited this unflattering description of him and wondered where this was going.
“You see Norman, much like our name implies, we correct things. We correct people’s lives by removing the impediments that prevent the flowering of their full potential. We’ve been watching you. Yes, you Norman. We’ve been watching you. We see the environment that that is stifling you. The horrible people that are tramping you. Preventing you and your unique, innate talent from bursting forth.
“I don’t think things are that bad. I’ve got a decent job and a wife that loves me and a house even.”
Davidoff began to laugh and rocked back and forth. He pounded his massive hooves into the pavement, throwing Burberry into the air. Burberry grabbed the lower rung of a raised fire escape ladder. He hung with one hand and continued to address Norman.
“As the keen observers we are we have observed your life in ways that you have never given consideration. True, you do have a job, you are married to a very handsome woman, and own a house, but these truths are surface truths. The deeper truth is that your coworkers and superiors hate you. They hate you in a way that is reserved for needy small domesticated pets. They call you Spinormless, or something like that, behind your back. Your wife cheats on you with several different men and one woman each week. She refers to you as the Idiot. Your house is a bit on the ramshackle side and isn’t in the best neighborhood. While we don’t believe the house says anything bad about you, your neighbors do. They developed several unflattering nicknames over the last few years. One of them is…”
“That’s fine I don’t need to know,” countered Norman.
Burberry eyed him with a bit of a mischievous gleam on his face.
“The children in the neighborhood do comment about the lack of response to their toilet paper attack. They are considering setting your tree on fire next time.”
Norman blurted out a noise usually reserved for injured small woodland creatures. It reminded Burberry of one of Davidoff’s farts.
“Finally, a reaction,” said Davidoff.
Burberry dropped from the fire escape back onto his companion’s back.
“Of course, I’m going to react. Some stupid monkey and rhino show up out of nowhere and tell me all these awful things which aren’t true. This is ridiculous.”
Norman launched into a tirade of abuse and name calling sparked by some hidden reservoir of anger. When he finished, Davidoff and Burberry nodded in approval.
“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” exclaimed Burberry
“Indeed,” intoned Davidoff. “This is what we were talking about.”
“Sorry about that,” said Norman. “I was out of line.”
Burberry took a banana out of a bag he kept strapped to the side of Davidoff and began to peel it.
“See this is what we were talking about. Do you ever stop to ask yourself, why do you apologize so much when you’re in the right?”
Norman stared at Burberry as if he had tried to shoot him.
“You’re weak and meek,” said Davidoff, “but that’s okay. We can fix it. We know how. We were like that once.”
Norman took a step back and leaned against the wall. The absurdity of this conversation finally pierced through his hazy mind like a sunbeam after a storm.
“How were you like that? You’re animals.”
Burberry held up his finger as he finished the last bite of the banana, swallowed, and threw the peel over his shoulder.
“Exactly! Do you think we were always like this? We are animals! Animals do not talk and wear bowler hats. We were experimented on at a research facility, government, private we don’t know what kind, but they did something to us.”
“Sure,” said Davidoff. “Even a big rhinoceros like myself can only take so much abuse and torture before falling apart. We turn into cowering masses of jello when a human in white jacket comes into the pen. It’s humiliating.”
“So, what kind of experiments did they do?”
Burberry scratched his head and looked like a little embarrassed.
“Hard to say. At the time we possessed only rudimentary understanding of our surroundings with our little animal minds. We can only surmise their intention was to produce an animal enough intelligence to complement its natural strengths. If so, they succeed except they made one glaring mistake.”
“What was that,” asked Norman.
“They assumed they could control it,” said Davidoff.
Norman left the alley confused and late back from lunch. After once again reiterating that he didn’t need their help and everything in Norman’s life was fine, Burberry handed him a card with their number on it apologizing for not having had a chance to acquire real business cards and if he changed his mind then to get in touch. When Norman asked what they could do for him, Davidoff and Burberry begged off any details. They claimed having performed this service for many people over the last year. Some had good results.
“We’re in it for the service,” Davidoff said when Norman asked how their client repaid them. “Must have been one of the things the scientists put in us.”
“We’re like superheroes,” said Burberry.
Norman had worked in the same position at the same office for ten years, but after walking through the lobby, opening the door to his company’s suite and beholding the familiar cubicles over which the tops of heads scurried back and forth like rats and bare asses, Norman didn’t recognize the place anymore. Usually, in the morning Norman took some comfort in looking down from the raised landing onto the straight lines of the cubicle walls. He thought he was on the way up. The grid of right angles and dead ends looked like kanji that he could not read but the meaning of which was implicit in the design like a prison laid out to read “PRISON” from above.
Norman felt nauseous at the sight of it all.
“Norman,” a voice yelled out.
Norman looked up to see his boss standing on the far side of the room holding a rolled-up sheaf of papers in his hand. His eyes shone white from the fluorescent lights reflecting off his glasses.
“Where have you been?”
The clacking of fingers on keyboards and conversations all came to stop except for a solitary printer humming away in the background. Then it too fell silent as if becoming self-aware everyone could hear it. Heads began to rise over the top of the cubicle walls. A host of heads popped up like prairie dogs, their beady survivalist eyes turning on Norman with a dispassion reserved for lesser animals or wounded predators who pose no threat.
Before his boss could get to him, Norman fled.
Norman met Davidoff and Burberry at a small, downtown cafe that Burberry claimed sold the best mocha cappuccino in town.
“A true testament to humankind’s ingeniousness,” he declared over a static-filled line.
Norman arrived to find them huddled in the corner of the cafe. Burberry sat a table with Davidoff crammed against the wall. Norman noticed a damaged door, three patrons with limps, and knocked over carousel, its assortment of newspapers and coffee products scattered about the floor.
“Why isn’t everyone freaking out,” asked Norman. “Do they get a lot of monkeys and rhinos in this place?”
“Maybe humanity is a bit more progressive than you give it credit for,” replied Burberry between sips on his mocha cappuccino. “I tend to think so.”
“We don’t know why they don’t react,” said Davidoff. “I’ve knocked cars onto their side and tore up a department store and no one ever ever remembers seeing rhinoceros storming through. It’s very odd.”
“Well, obviously, the scientists responsible for our extraordinary capacity must have had something to do with it.”
“Must be some pheromone we emit,” Davidoff concurred. “Only possible explanation, but unproven at this moment. Mere speculation.”
Norman opened his mouth to ask what a pheromone was, but Burberry cut straight to the point.
“So, you’ve decided to take us up on our offer. That’s fantastic.”
“Truly is. You won’t have any regrets about this.”
Burberry pooped in his hand and flung it at a pixie-haired girl behind the counter. His scat missed her by a scant inch. Norman, wrapped up in his own dilemma, paid no heed to the flinging of feces.
“I don’t know what happened, but the moment I walked back into the office, I felt the hate and the pity and the vile feelings everyone felt towards me. I thought I had walked into a medieval dungeon. Everything reeked of hopelessness.”
Davidoff laughed at this epiphany.
“We’ve had that effect on people as well, those that we choose to help, the ones that see us for what we are.”
A waitress walked over and asked them if they wanted anything to drink. At Burberry’s urging, Norman ordered a large mocha cappuccino, but before the waitress could turn and place the order, Davidoff shifted a little and knocked her to the ground. The three watched her on the floor waiting for her to stir. Finally, she pulled herself off the floor and wiped the blood from her face. No one in the cafe appeared to notice what happened. The waitress herself seemed to be at a loss to explain her blurry vision. She limped back behind the counter.
“I feel bad for that,” Davidoff huffed.
“Poor thing,” Burberry said between sips while watching the waitress stumble away. He shit in his hand again and threw it in her hair.
“So, what are you going to do for me,” he asked with enough earnestness to shame a five-year-old sitting on a mall Santa’s lap.
“Never you mind about that. Enjoy that extraordinary chocolate concoction when it comes. Let us handle everything else.”
“Just show up at work at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, and everything will be as it should be. Don’t worry about a thing., said Davidoff.
Burberry jumped off the table and retrieved a copy of the New York Times from the floor. Once settled back on the table with his beloved espresso, he leafed through the paper.
“Maybe we should help the President out,” Burberry said to Davidoff. “He could use it I think.”
Davidoff mumbled something unintelligible and closed his eyes. Norman thought he was humming a show tune.
The conversation concluded, Norman sat back and waited till his drink arrived.
“So why Burberry and Davidoff,” Norman asked while wiping the blood from the handle of his mug. “Those are colognes.”
“They were given to us by our inadvertent creators,” Burberry said without looking up from his paper. “A joke of theirs since we were just smelly animals to them.”
Burberry abruptly flipped to the next page after saying this while Norman sniffed the air. He smelled nothing but coffee.
That night Norman arrived home to find an empty house. He waited till eleven o’clock before making dinner, a warmed-over meatloaf, and several slices of wonder bread, before going to bed in his clothes. Sometime during the night, he heard the door close and his wife flop down on the bed. He pretended to be asleep, but he could feel her staring at him in the dark. The mattress shifted and the springs squeaked as she rolled over on her side and took to snoring.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow everything changes, Norman thought. He allowed a smile to form on his lips as he fell asleep. Before he slipped into unconsciousness, he smelled the faint whiff of Burberry cologne on his wife.
The next morning, Norman parked his car at the back of the lot at work and slouched down behind the steering wheel. He watched the steady stream of coworkers as they arrived for the day. A knot formed in his stomach as he waited for Burberry and Davidoff to make their appearance. At nine-thirty, as the last of the employees scurried through the tall glass doors, they arrived.
Arrived is the wrong word; they appeared. Norman’s uninterrupted view of the concrete box of his office disappeared, replaced by the gray-blue hulk of Davidoff. Burberry landed with a thud on the hood of Norman’s car.
“Hi there,” said Davidoff, his horn tapping on the driver’s side window.
Norman screamed. Burberry screamed and jumped back onto Davidoff. Norman rolled the window down and the reek of marijuana smoke drifted into the car. Norman saw that Burberry held a joint.
“Oh man, you ready? Because we’re ready,” said Burberry who proceeded to take a long drag on the joint.
“You guys scared me,” said Norman. “What’s on your nose?”
Norman pointed at the white smear about Davidoff’s massive flaring nostrils. He glared at Norman with bloodshot eyes and started cackling in laughter. This set Burberry off who began throwing feces in every which direction. Norman felt small. When everyone calmed down Burberry told Norman to sit tight and wait for their signal to come in.
“How will I know?”
The rhinoceros and monkey snickered a bit before placing their bowler hats on top of their heads, turning about, and leisurely strolling towards the office doors. Burberry turned his head after a few steps and tossed his joint through the open window. Norman burned his fingertips grabbing it off the passenger seat.
“That’ll relax you lady,” said Burberry.
When they reached the doors, Burberry jumped down and swung the door open for his gargantuan friend. He waved Davidoff through with a dramatic flourish and bow. Davidoff performed a reasonable curtsy (excellent for a coked-up rhinoceros) and entered the building. Burberry turned and waved to Norman before disappearing into the building. The door closed with a slow, soft swoosh that Norman could not hear.
A moment or two after the door closed, Norman realized he had no idea what Burberry and Davidoff planned to do.
Then a woman flew through a window and landed with a splat even Norman could hear in the back of the parking lot. Norman waited for the woman to get up, but she laid there dead not a participant in a prank as Norman prayed.
Then the screams started.
Norman’s first thought that whatever pheromones these two emitted were no longer working. The woman threw herself out the window in pure terror, and the rest of the office were screaming from finding a rhinoceros and monkey in their midst.
Norman bolted from the car and ran towards the building. The screams died down and the crashing sound of mayhem replaced them. Then Norman heard what sounded like a gunshot. When Norman reached the building, he looked down at the dead woman. Diana Sellsbury. Accounts receivable. She once laughed at Norman for spilling coffee on himself and then spent the next five years reminding him of it with the same laugh. Norman did not feel anything as he looked at her except curiosity. Why was there a large bloody hole right through her?
Norman did not need to wait long for an answer as another window exploded. Instead of someone falling to their death, Norman saw his boss, Mr. Costello, dangling in the frame of jagged glass. Impaled on Davidoff’s horn. Screaming. Screaming a lot. The
“Hey boss,” Davidoff yelled. He shook his head back and forth slamming Norman’s boss into the jagged remnants of the window. “How we doin’ boss? How we doin’ boss?”
“Great,” Norman shouted without thinking.
Mr. Costello heard Norman’s voice and looked down at him. His eyes pleaded for Norman to make it stop, to do something about this rhinoceros horn through his belly. He might have asked for help, too, but he only screamed more as Davidoff flung him from his horn. Mr. Costello arced up through the air and landed head-first on the pavement.
“Touchdown,” screamed Davidoff who disappeared back into the office.
The building doors flung open and three terrified people, their clothes bloody and torn, ran past Norman. They raced towards the parking lot, but three quick shots rang out hitting each of them in the back of the head. They fell straight to the ground. Norman looked up to see Burberry standing in a broken window holding a smoking pistol.
“Don’t worry about us, we got this,” he said. He waved his hands above his head jumped back into the office.
“I got three more,” Norman heard him yell.
Norman could stand no more and headed inside. The office looked like a Bosch nightmare. The number of body parts scattered about the crushed cubicles gave the impression more people worked here than actually did. Hands and legs stuck from underneath debris and flattened bodies were strewn about like an explosion at a doll factory. Norman noticed legs in black stockings jutting from the ceiling, a slow drip of blood falling from the one shoe hanging from the toes of the left foot.
Prissy Anderson, thought Norman. Damn fine legs.
A low moan rose from someone injured beneath a fallen cubicle panel. Davidoff walked over to it and slammed one tremendous foot down. The floor jumped and the moaning stopped. He swung about his massive head and eyed Norman.
“All done. Done. Done. Done,” he said stamping his feet for each ‘done.’
Norman did not know what to say but did not have to when Burberry’s voice rang out from around the corner.
Davidoff and Norman turned to see a bloodied man came around the corner with his hands in the air. Burberry followed behind with a pistol aimed at the man’s back.
“What’s going on,” the man said when he saw Norman. “You’ve got to call the police! These circus animals are acting strange!”
Davidoff swung his ass and knocked the man to the ground. Burberry jumped on top of him and tapped his head with the butt of the pistol.
“You know who this is,” Burberry asked Norman.
“The guy who needs to be stomped on.” said Davidoff.
“Nah, I saved this one for our pal Norman. So, do you know who he is?”
“Yes, I do,” said Norman. “Conrad Salisbury. A real asshole.”
Burberry motioned his head towards the pistol which he held out towards Norman. Norman did not hesitate as he started walking forward. He took the gun and stood over Conrad and pointed the gun down at his head which twisted to look up at Norman.
“This is for not telling anyone I reconciled all those accounts for you five years ago.”
Conrad looked up at Norman. “What?”
Norman pulled the trigger and shot Conrad through the head spraying everyone with blood. Burberry licked the blood off his mouth. Norman handed him back the gun and looked at the man’s shattered face.
“Huh, that’s not Conrad.”
“Who is it?”
“What did he do to you?”
“We want to know.”
Norman stood and searched his mind trying to match the face with a name.
“Actually, nothing. He started last week.”
Burberry and Davidoff began laughing and Norman joined in.
“No regrets,” replied Norman as they stood near the door a few minutes later. “I feel like a new man. Thank you so much.”
“No, thank you,” said Burberry.
“Yeah, that was fun.”
“And a good deed,” added Burberry. “That’s what we do. We’re the Corrective Collective.”
Burberry climbed atop his colossal friend, pulled two bowler hats out from behind his back. He placed the larger one on Davidoff’s head and the smaller one on his own. Davidoff turned and walked through the door Norman held for them.
“Farewell friends,” Norman exclaimed before receiving a fist full of monkey shit in his face.
Norman did not mind as he wiped the shit from his eyes. He stepped back into the office and surveyed the damage and destruction one last time. The door was only closed for a moment before it swung back open and a young man in an ill-fitting suit stepped through. He struggled to juggle his briefcase and a cup of coffee while straightening his tie. He muttered something about traffic before turning and seeing the wreckage of the office. Norman recognized him as an intern that started only the week before. The young man stopped in his tracks and dropped the coffee and briefcase to the floor.
“There’s been an accident,” Norman said with no hint of emotion as he ruined a handkerchief on his soiled face.
As the only surviving full-time employee at this branch, Norman spent the next several months rebuilding his office from the ground up. At least that was the impression he gave corporate. They promoted him to branch president and Norman doubled down on his Stalinist management practices. He walked the cubicles during the day doing nothing but intimidating his employees. He wrote them up and fired them for the slightest mistake. With a recession happening, his employees felt trapped. They kept their heads down and pretended to be invisible like trapped mice spotted by a ravenous cat.
Since the terrorist attack, the official story agreed to by the police and management, profits rose to heights never seen before and Norman looked forward to a rosy future.
At home, Norman behaved much the same. After coming the night of what he liked to call his liberation, he smacked his wife in the face and demanded she tells him about her affairs. Then under threat of physical violence, he forced her to call each one of them and break it off. His wife had always been one to define herself through the men she associated with and while she despaired at being with a meek Norman, this new abusive Norman was worse. She wilted.
And then they came.
She stood in the alley with Norman’s fifty employees. Burberry and Davidoff were there too. They all watched Norman eat his lunch at the patio tables behind the office building.
“Oh man, this is going to be great,” said Davidoff.
“Think of it. Instead of wiping out a bunch of people to help one person we can grow the love by taking out one person,” said Burberry. Burberry cocked his gun.
“Take out some Wall Street CEO’s next,” asked Davidoff
“Definitely and then elected representatives.” Burberry flung some shit over his shoulder splattering some of their new clients.
“The world is such a better place with us in it.”
“Most definitely. Most definitely. We’re like righteous tornadoes, knocking down all the bad in the world and throwing it up in the air.”
“Tornadoes with teeth,” said Davidoff.
“Oh, very nice. We should get tattoos.”
“Shall we,” asked Davidoff.
“Yes, we shall.”
Burberry cocked Davidoff’s bowler hat forward, then did the same with his own bowler hat, and Davidoff started forward.
Of everything I’ve ever written, this one has got to be the most mysterious. I was living in Birmingham, Alabama for a few months working a contract job to help pay for my upcoming wedding. That’s about it. I suppose I could claim Pohl’s Black Start Rising as an inspiration, but that would be a complete lie.
This story is a complete lie about a vigilante animals. It’s weird and I laughed out loud a few times while editing it for inclusion on this blog. Success! I hope you have a laugh as well.