Cort had three places to sit in his apartment and today he intended sitting in all of them. He began in the kitchen. Sitting on his wooden kitchen chair at his wooden kitchen table. He had the two vintage crystal wineglasses part-filled with water in front of him and the silver teaspoon ready for action.
Mrs Soup would be along soon. He’d earlier checked her progess by standing this side of his front door and listening. She lived-in in the block—in fact had an apartment not too far from Cort’s—and was employed by the Department of Human Services to provide nine of the block’s residents with their meals.
Cort ting-tinged with his fork against the right-hand glass.
“In the kitchen as usual,” Mrs Soup said. “Waiting for me, I suppose.”
He would’ve smiled if he could. Not safe now. Ting. This was the high note with which he put positive comments into the conversation. Mrs Soup wasn’t backward in supplying the words.
She set the dinner bag on the counter and unloaded the covered bowls. Cort’s teeth had given up the struggle and he’d graduated onto soups and stews that didn’t require chewing. “Both into the fridge?” she said.
Ting. He didn’t know yet when he’d have time to suck up the mid-day meal.
“Oh?” Mrs Soups said. “Expecting another caller?”
Ting. Cort pointed the teaspoon at a red square on the placemat.
“Ah, you’re expecting Red. A good man.” She took yesterday’s disinfected and sealed-up dishes in their plastic bags from the vegetable crisper.
He agreed. Ting. Red was the house medic. Employed under the same arrangement as Mrs Soup, he was overworked and underpaid. In Cort’s opinion. A lot more sick people in the scene than were fed by the house.
“Thank you for this disinfecting. You are such a dear,” Mrs Soup said. “Different to the old codger two floors down.”
Cort tapped the other, almost full glass. Tang.
“Red is with Mr Irascible right now, I’d say. He sidled in as I sailed out.”
Which gave him Red’s approximate arrival time. Ting.
For Red’s visit, Cort made himself comfortable in his old armchair. The arm rests were perfect for him to lay his arm on a pillow for Red to serve him up with an injection or a cannula for a dose of IV meds.
“Hey, old-timer,” Red said at the door. “How’s it going?”
Cort slipped his mask up over mouth and nose.
“That’s a new thing between us,” Red said at the mask, fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. “And I have been thinking I’d like to have a look at the problem?” He finished with his head on-side, asking.
Cort gestured futility with his fingers spread, hands upturned.
“There’s a thing growing in your mouth and what? You don’t want me to have a look-see, to see if it is cureable?”
Cort shook his head. Indicated down with his thumb.
“Is it bacterial?” Red said. “I’ve still got some antibiotics you haven’t had yet. Could hit it with them.”
Cort shook his head.
“Is it cancerous?”
Cort shook his head.
“Not cancerous.” Red wrapped the blood pressure guage around Cort’s upper arm. “Only one thing left. Show me and I’ll be able to prescribe something.”
Cort pointed at Red. Gestured Red’s probably fate with a finger across his throat.
Red frowned. “As bad as that? I can go to the ambo station, get some hospital-grade personal protection gear, see you again this afternoon.”
Cort grabbed one of his signs from beside his chair. THERE IS ONLY REVENGE.
Red’s eyes above his mask narrowed. He hissed. “I told them at the station there’s a killer in our scene. What’s he doing?”
Cort mimed diseases passing from one to the next. Infecting people. He got his second sign out. His mobile. A photo, a selfie from hell. His pursed mouth with the deep grooves of his aging face radiating from his thin lips pressed tight. Both the depths of the grooves and the lips painted a deathly white. The disease escaping its confines.
Red studied it with quick glances back and forth to Cort’s eyes, the rest of his face. He frowned thunder. “What can I do?”
Gesturing, Cort asked for help to get out of the chair and be settled on the couch. Cort with a towel over his head for extra protection for Red. His third sign. BURN THAT IN A MEDICAL FURNACE. 1100 DEGREES. He mimed. Make me look like a half-warm corpse.
Red grinned wolfishly. Got out his second mobile, set it to Record. “I’ll be at Mrs Soup’s, watching this. I insist,” he said to Cort’s head shakes. He laid it between Cort’s knees. “I’ll see that your revenge goes nowhere else.”
“He’s dead anyway,” Cort signed.
“Not soon enough. Don’t worry, I have a good plan. No one else is going to be farmed by this dude.” Last thing, Red fetched the red half-blanket from his kit. Spread it over Cort’s lap. He nodded. “Eleven hundred degrees.”
Next, the grower. What he called himself. Just a humble farmer popping in from time to time to see how the crop was growing he said. Cort savagely echoed him in his mind.
The man getting sicker, Cort saw the fucker think, his legs up on the couch like that and covered with an ambo’s little red blanket. Cort chuckled behind his mask, whatever that might sound like.
Grower checked that that ambo was not on the premises while fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. Three rooms and a bathroom. No ambo. He set the chair on the rug alongside the couch. Its outer limits but opposite Cort. “Can’t be too careful,” he said.
“I traded some of my stock this week and scored me some magnifying specs,” Grower said. He pulled them from his shirt pocket and Cort saw that they were an eye doctor’s magnifiers. Grower slid a couple of lenses into the left frame, three on the right.
Cort grinned close-mouthed behind his mask. Made an inquiring sound.
“You’re right,” Gtower said. “I do owe you an explanation or three.” He laughed. “Your name was the beginning of it.”
Cort raised his eyebrows. This was where he might’ve asked the damned farmer-in-the-dell to explain. Mouth too far gone. But don’t worry he consoled himself, this fucker will tell you because this fucker likes the sound of his own voice.
“In the bar they all called you Cort,” Grower began. “I knew rightaway the crop I’d want to try you out for. Then I learned that you were Allin Cort. Even better. It fits the genus and species naming system. In my literature—pamphlets, brochures and pricelists—I’ve started to call the crop I’ll be harvesting from you Cortinarius allin aff sapient.”
How would he get the delusional sapient to come closer? Cort grunted as disparagingly as he still could.
“It does sounds kind of weird,” Grower said. “But hey, you don’t seem to be doing that well?” He hitched the chair nearer. “The minute I went into job-lots of specifics for the laboratories, my life improved. I got rid of all the species that were too ornery. Too meh. The ones that had no poison and or no flavour if they were edible. I was thinking to get a sample today? Get it tested and so be able to offer my clients a specific rather than a general.”
Cort let his eyelids droop to half-mast, like he was a very sick man. Chuckle chuckle. Sicker than some, not sick enough to not want his revenge before he died.
The fellow hitched the chair even nearer, reached over the remaining distance and gently unhooked Cort’s mask. “Just want to see how we’re progressing, old boy.”
The sick man aka Cort relaxed back onto the couch armrest. He’d laugh if he still could. He gathered himself for his last lunge. Had to be good.
“Medic was here?” Grower said. “He give you some salve and that’s why your mouth and all those grooves are so white?”
Cort shook his head. He coughed through a narrow slot with a tearing paper sound. Pressed together his lips again.
“Right. Right. A little cough is the go. Let me get ready for the next one with a swab.” Grower scrabbled in his bag. Got out a swab. A glass container. A this. A that and a whatever.
Cort watched the madman’s face. Here he comes. Those crazed blue eyes.
“Ready when you are,” Grower said. Sitting on the edge of the chair, both his hands filled with the equipment to catch Cort’s … spores?
Cort grabbed the dead man’s upper arms with an iron grip and opened his mouth wide.
His lips crackled. Cracked. Flaked away.
The white felty interior stretched, the fibres sprang apart.
The spotted brown gills hanging from the roof of his mouth released a cloud of dark brown spores. Cort pursed his lips and blew more of them faster and further into the fellow’s face, his hair, his clothes. He blinded him with Cortinarius spores.
Grower would’ve reared back but Cort hugged him. Breathed spores into him. Kissed him to give him the taste. Cuddled the deluded dead thing to his chest.
Whispered lovingly. “Red will be here in a minute. He’ll tidy us up.”