This is as good a place as any to begin.
I wrote this:
“Pancake Men” by Pandrio Androtti
EPIGRAPH: “Don’t think they understand/How much cake the pancake man had”
(Kevin Federline, “Crazy,” Playing With Fire)
Franz was a man of his word back a long time ago, before even Heath Ledger had made it such a fancy thing to be. He owned quite the underground empire, although it’s one you’ve never heard of. This is very materialistic world we live in and, according to such, rich people are often only known by what it is that made them that way. Bill Gates is always Microsoft and Steve Jobs is always Macintosh, even if they switch companies, because that’s what made them so full of it.
Franz, then, obviously, is relatively unknown due to the fact that his trade is discreet. Franz might employ a large number of workers, but none of them are allowed to speak of his business, they have all signed these waivers saying just that. Actually, the only reason I can even talk about this now is that Franz is dead. A handful of people came to his funeral, which made it easier for me to attach myself to his wife for the evening.
Let me excuse myself for any misunderstanding here. My wife is no Lisa Marie Presley, I’m no Nicolas Cage (that guy reads more comics than even I); I love the woman dearly. But to be frank, the first thing that attracted me to her was the possibility, no, the probability that she had a tale to tell that you could see in her eyes at that funeral. Being a writer, well, I think we’re always looking for some kind of story, and when I saw her that day…There’s definitely a story I plan to tell here.
The story, of course, is not about Franz, my wife’s first husband. She’s told me all about him, but to speak of a man like Franz, one would easily need a whole book to get any sort of story told in its complete form. This is because, the kind of man Franz was, there’s only really one story about him; one that can’t be imagined any other way than under that title (Franz) and written by the estimable James Michener, who I’m sad to say, is also not around today.
(Is it possible then, that in some sort of afterlife, Michener is doing just that? Writing the life story of our friend Franz? Now wouldn’t that be poetic!)
No, this is not about Franz, but he’s most definitely involved. His presence can easily be felt, if you know anything at all about the man. The only problem then being that not all that many people know much of him, but like I say, Franz is not the character of study here.
The hero of this story is, as it must be, a man named Kurt.
Kurt, like any teenager growing up in the time and with the family that he did, faced one major decision that would affect his life forevermore. Once he had made his choice, there would not be another time in his life more apt for a filmmaker to make a short study of, in the fashion of something quite like Sliding Doors, which is only mentioned to reiterate the impact of said selection.
(Please stop me if I boring you. As I write this now, I don’t think anything really cool is going to happen until 3 or 4, so you could just skip down to that, if you’re the kind of person who decided not to see The Matrix Reloaded because the paper said that nothing really went down in that film and to wait till Revolutions.)
Either Kurt could continue his life as an upstanding citizen, watching repeats of Two and a Half Men whenever they were on, which translated to always, and living with his terrible sister who failed out of college and his brother who hated him, or he could go to the street.
Any real reason Kurt had for making the latter decision was pure rationalization to be sure, but that does not change the fact that one summer vacation, it might have been going on his junior year, he packed a bag with what he thought he would need to live on his own, bought some condoms to humor himself, combed his hair for maybe the seventh time in his life, and got on the first Greyhound out of whatever geographic distance it was that constituted his life.
This was all a defense mechanism, as you well know. Kurt felt unloved, and wished to gather his relatives’ sympathy by suddenly disappearing from their lives, and then to return to them, voilà, the true spoiled baby of the family that he thought he should be. This is all good and well, probably happens everyday, but in this case it didn’t go according to plan.
On the Greyhound, Kurt met his cousin Vinny (who wasn’t his cousin or named Vinny. He was the kind of character that Vonnegut would call a Blue Fairy Godmother.), who we’ve possibly previously spoken of. I assume this also happens everyday, considering the overflowing ranks of your average illegal organization that your average cousin Vinny is bound to be the head of.
And so Kurt went to the street, possibly against his best wishes, making his decision all the more permanent. So good for us, for me, this is, because that is where the real story lies, but for Kurt it was regrettably less fortunate.
(Sometimes I wonder if today Kurt is like you and me, or if he has gone the way of Franz and Michener. This story, the one I’ve pieced together from my wife, his family, all sorts of people, is ambiguous there. But you’ll see that soon enough.)
As a journalist, as a writer, I will now try to explain what it was that happened to Kurt, why he became the person he was, and what he did as such, but to do so, I feel surely that I must fictionalize this story, for I am not Kurt, I have no right to speak of the man as if I know what he is thinking, and so any real truth ends at this point in our narrative.
(As if any of this really happened anyway. As if I’m even a real person myself.)
The pancake men are obviously very easy to spot if you know where to look and you know what you are doing. That’s why, unless you are a pancake man, knowledge of the above constitutes a death sentence. You will not see your assassin coming because the pancake men never do any of their own executions and their contracted killers, their hit men, are more commonly than not ninjas.
Pancake men frequent many eating establishments, none more often than the apparent IHOP. (The Lapins are virtually worshipped by pancake men through bizarre rituals that it is best we not discuss.) On any Saturday morning you could easily run into a half dozen in any one International House.
Saturday is their biggest day of business because it is the easiest for all members to attend to a long breakfast. Deals can only go down when the occupants of the restaurant are at least eighty percent pancake men. All pancake men are trained to acknowledge the precise shift in patrons that allows them to begin their transactions. (This is done through hours of study of videotape mostly, and is the characteristic of which most pancake men are quite proud.)
When one considers him- or herself to be just one of five not engaging in certain actions, chances become very good that he or she will not do anything, for fear of being an outsider. This is a localization of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” same principal, enacted on a smaller stage.
Pancake men trade in all sorts of crop: smack, hash, x, sky diamonds, cake, and anything hot. The majority of them are elderly gentlemen, because there is so much involved in becoming a member of this elite club, there are generally few young upstarts on their own. There is very little subtlety with which deals are done. You have two standard types of pancake men: the supplier and the dealer. If one is able to actually watch one of their club meetings in progress, it’s easy enough to see who’s who. Of course all the specs vary greatly, but your standard play out has the dealers, if they order anything, getting a plate with eggs. Your growers, makers, thieves, all your first man grifters, they have the hard job of figuring out their topping. Perhaps the most obvious message to the middle man is powder sugar, which means the guy is packing cake, which is pretty much just common sense. But they change it up; very rarely do you find such obvious clues from pancake men these days.
Franz, he was a man who dealt in cake, and, in so being, established our friend Kurt as someone pushing powder. Starting in the game so young, our hero would most definitely turn an eye or two if he was actually out there throwing it down with all the rest of the crowd, so he worked as a disintermediator, getting rid of any product that needed to be pushed quick, or for some reason wasn’t getting picked up by the circuit.
There was this one time back when Kurt was still new to the game when he went to work with his cousin Vinny on one Saturday morning. That day our hero met all kinds of names, saw all kinds of faces; all these things being mainly detrimental to him in the long haul. When it comes to mafias, gangs, mobs, any kind of illegal club, you’ll probably find that knowledge is most definitely not power.
Let’s take a step back now, since, for all I know, you all might be lost already. We’re on the bus with Kurt, he has a bag with his life in it, and sure, his parents have taught him never to speak to strangers, but this is his rebellion phase, and were he to listen to them now, he wouldn’t be able to see himself as much of a rebel. I’m not making excuses for him, but this whole story is a rationalization in a way. When I talked to anyone who knew Kurt back before he embarked on this journey, they all had the same sort of response that you’ve heard all your life from people in this situation: “Would never have expected this from Kurt, he was such a nice kid?” (And obviously all variations on this, since you don’t even talk in the same language when you move from a kid’s parents to his friends.)
His cousin Vinny takes a look at him and says, “You’re running away, aren’t you kid?” and the first thing that Kurt thinks to respond is “Is it that obvious?” but he cuts that off in his head and sort of brushes the creepy old man off, even though his cousin Vinny, he’s not a man that you ignore.
“Hey kid,” he says, “Look at me, kid. Look at me!” Finishing with force, they have to believe you’ll actually hurt them, someone once said. When Kurt actually does turn, drawn by some delusional force of habit brought on by his life moving from classroom to classroom, his cousin continues, “See, I bet you’re trying to get away from your family, make’em notice your absence, ayuh?” To this Kurt gives what maybe could be perceived of as a nod. “But how about this, kid, you come back and suddenly they miss your absence, eh? Look, why’d you leave? They’re not showing you any care, now are they? They don’t even know you’re alive. Kid, look, when you go back, it’s gonna be all the same, nothing ever changes when you go back to the same status quo. You have to shake things up like. All you’re doing now, it’s just kitschy, everyone’s done it.”
And Kurt doesn’t really know what is going on here. “This is all I can do,” he’s saying, “I put a lot of thought into this, and all I could come up with was…” He knows if he keeps speaking he’s going to start crying, so he lets his voice trail off, but that doesn’t really make him feel any better about himself.
“I had a vision of this town once, when I was a young lad like yourself; I thought I knew everything going on here, hell, I thought I knew the whole world like the back of my hand. Then one day I fall off the side of the map, I sail my boat over the flat earth, and I land on the underside.
“Look kid, if you’re looking for some kind of sure thing here, you ain’t going to get it going back to that house of yours. You’ll get the sympathy ‘you okay?’ from everyone you know and in a week they are going to forget about you all again. World I live in, it’s different from yours. Everyone has notoriety there, if you know them, then they most definitely know you. I’ve got this idea, see, let’s take a stroll on the underside of the map, huh? We’ll see the inside of the globe. That’s the only place you’re going to make a name for yourself. But, I’ll admit, it’s a hard place to live, kid. Thing is,” he coughs for a moment, like a cigarette smoker close to death, suddenly this seems like a different film entirely, before he goes on, “Thing is, you work under me, you’re safe, and you’ll have all kinds of dough.
“Hey kid, look at me, you want some kind of certainty in your life? You want to know that maybe you meant something to someone in this life? I know of only one sure way to get any of that.”
The bus stops. Kurt’s cousin Vinny, our cousin Vinny, this man gets up to leave; walking away he turns his head back and assures, “Kid, this is a deal. I’m a man of my word.” He gets off and maybe you’re wondering where he went, so I’ll give you my best guess, which is nowhere.
At the next stop, Kurt got off and hiked his way back up to the last drop off and when he got there his cousin was sitting on the bench reading a newspaper. He looked up and smiled. “Next bus,” he said, “in about ten minutes now.”
“Mister,” Kurt said, “What the hell is this you think you got to show me?”
And, as they say, the rest is history.
So, look, lives make long stories and I could tell you all about how Kurt fell in love with that one girl you’ve seen before and you probably knew was turning tricks, or how he started winning off the street gambler that dealt his cards across the street from the apartment that he would share with whoever he was sharing his life with at that time, but you don’t really have the time for all that, do you? (I know I don’t.) And I still fear that the more I say, the more this is just a useless collection of images that do not truly respect any true story. (Like The Perfect Storm.) With that aside, long story short, Kurt got himself a name for sure, but perhaps not the best kind.
Nothing spreads quicker than fame, but infamy, so even though he ingratiated with praise throughout his own little circle, these were just ripples going out through the pond, and what it came down to was the fact that the woman Kurt lusted after and the busker that he often took cash away from were both employed by the same big wig who was no friend of our cousin Vinny. More like our drunken uncle Dan, this guy was very much the loose cannon who didn’t care what happened to others.
And if this was any solid swashbuckling adventure, I’m sure that Kurt and this man Dan, which isn’t his name, would have run into each other on any number of occasions. But, unfortunately, there is no final problem for a face off with Moriarty, there are no works to look on and face Ozymandias in this tale.
I don’t think they ever even met each other. They knew of each other, because, the world they lived in, knowledge of another person was a reflexive thing, a two-way street, but meetings face to face between brooding forces? Let’s just say that if they were more common, unstoppable forces would be meeting immovable objects all day long.
Problem with being on someone’s black list when you’re under the skin of civilization is how fragile your life really is. Everyone has their marks and if you actually look in the books that don’t exist, you’ll see that these incestuous organizations don’t like their own members much. Or, if you want, there’s an awful lot of friendly fire going around.
So, look, you got to give the boy credit, he never turned pigeon himself. He just pissed off people in the wrong places. The problem with, some would say the only good thing about, pigeons is that they’ve already finked one way, which makes them easy to pick up cheap as long as your job helps the feds out somewhat. Like I’ve said, the underground has it’s own problems with itself, and you find every now and then that the law is happy to play enemy of my enemy is my friend and overlook what ever is actually going on behind specific tables.
Dan the man, the arch villain, he engineers this fairly simple plan of greasing the hands of your everyday undercover team, get them sending out buyers to the right corners to pick up the dealers, especially one in particular. This in itself allows him to put his own men across town, so it’s a win-win.
He is absolutely delighted about this over breakfast, which, any pancake man will tell you, is the most important meal of the day. Blubbering down the wires—it was perhaps the worst quality of a man with many bad traits to speak long and loudly about anything and everything—in one IHOP, he put word out on the circuit, but it was much too late.
One Sunday morning Pete the Worm comes up to Kurt for a fix, playing the part well, he’s been a fake addict for longer than he ever was real, and Kurt’s ready with the cake and the money’s exchanged and then the whole thing goes miles up shit creek for one side of the transaction.
When they roll Kurt, they bring him in to bring down the whole gang, because that’s the whole point to this. As low down as Kurt is, he’s really no worse than a mark or a john, and they have this new upshot detective in town with a penchant for taking on the machine.
So they bring the boy in. Kurt, hardened by a year in a half on the street, is still just a kid really, and he’s more than happy to throw out some names of heads. This detective, Jack, he’s trying to rewrite the books a little bit. The main question is how gang empires are built: rather than a building, the foundations are at the top, the higher you get, the harder it is to bring down an individual column, and it begs to wonder if you are actually affecting anything on the street level by taking on the real people responsible.
Gang wars kill leaders all the time and all it does is change the sides for your rosters, leaving you with all the same players, so the effects of throwing big wigs in jail are sometimes questioned, but this guy, Jack, he’s not listening to any of that; he knows he’s only getting one side of the box from this kid, but he thinks maybe he can flip the industry on its side, making it all the more easily attacked.
Kurt, by now the boy’s quite angry, and throwing names of everyone who’s made his list, who’s list he’s on. Pancake men, they keep two different kinds of everything; when it comes to lists, they have the ones they hand over to their hit men, and they have the ones they keep to themselves. It is an unwritten rule that a pancake man not take out a contract on another pancake man’s life, so there are less direct ways taken to end lives. Since list one is death by proxy, list two becomes death by proxy by proxy.
There was an understanding back not too long ago, between the pancake men and all kinds of law; you see, these guys like Jack, they’re nothing more than kids like Kurt, following this mythical archetype that’s sprung up in literature for a couple generations now: The Cop, puts his work before his life, neglects his wife, drinks himself to death, and always bites off more than he can chew. So, sure, things have changed big time when it comes to who is scratching whose back these days.
And this is how it comes to be that an unsuspecting Dan brought about his own demise. And how a detective like Jack made a name for himself in knocking off an empire.
Like the Japanese, looking back on their baiting of the most irrational beasts in the form of the atomic bomb, it is possible that before he went down for all kinds of illegal actions, our man Dan looked on his future, like a deer stuck in the headlights, and envisioned what life would be like after such a cataclysmic event as the one he saw in his future.
This guy Jack turned himself into a household in the parts where this all happened when he brought in five crime bosses and actually put three behind bars for a solid amount of time. Course it didn’t hurt that the upstart was also solving quadruple murders and going through all kinds of past cases, but you talk to the people who live in that town today, the old ones, as Lovecraft would have them, and they’ll tell you this was the one that put him on the map. It was this kind of good that would keep people from looking down on Jack, because his talents sure unearthed all kinds of evil in what looked like clean soils.
Chances are low that Dan ever did anything like repent, but he sure did try to take vengeance for himself. Locked away in a cage, it didn’t take him long to find his connection to the outside and send out all kinds of red flags on this Kurt, all kinds of warrants for death by proxy squared.
You roll around in the mud long enough, you’re bound to get dirty, and there was plenty a reason for different people to want Kurt whacked; none more than Dan himself, but with him supplying the cash, suddenly the business seemed all the more profitable, and there were a lot of people involved in the trade.
Kurt, first thing he did, was get rid of all the stash he had on him, got as clean as he could, killing whatever habit he’d picked up from eighteen months dealing the stuff, and got as much hard money as he possibly could. He didn’t know about all the cake being spread around by his cousin Vinny, all the different places being greased, giving him enough time to get out, before he got dead.
Course it would have been so much easier if it hadn’t been for the woman. (Some would have it that this is always true, but then some are misogynist.) The thing was whatever strings it was that Kurt actually had, the girl he loved looked like a marionette when compared. He sprinkled the faces of dead presidents everywhere he could, Benjamins everywhere else, and tried to get her out of there as soon as possible.
Flying the coop, they made it look easy, but then things get sketchy, like the edges of an unfinished drawing. The problem really being the sheer amount of territory that the pancake men cover. It doesn’t really matter where they got to, because if they got found out wherever they were, they’d be dead today. Plenty of people would have been there to take out Kurt, and yes, if they ever got him, like Claus von Stauffenberg, they’d be after his girl, his woman, his wife, whichever it be.
The way I like to think, he found himself a nice little village and is still living out his day; the boy’s maybe half my age, he sure does deserve more than the life I’ve gotten. He probably works at a library and has been reading through the beats ever so slowly since he got there up until whenever it is that now is.
As for Franz, all this was a long time ago, years before the funeral, before I met my wife. You see, Franz had a way with him, he could make enemies of everyone, could harbor a damn traitor to his own way of life and still he could work things out, fix problems, and get back in the game.
I think the reason for all this was the sheer amount of crop that Franz could come up with. We still get people contacting us with a habit, looking for a fix, to this day, and sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m only a strongman for my wife, helping her to leave this life behind.
Franz could always get back into the business because no one really understood how much of the ice on the market was his. A winter without him, mayhap you might not even notice it snowing.
You see I don’t think they ever understood how much cake that pancake man had.