Welcome to the last chapter of this serialized edition of Kill The Rich. Those of you who stuck around— thanks for sticking around. I got COVID, moved, and won $50 at the slots at Circa during the creation of this book. It took longer than I thought it would but it was a wild ride. Thanks for reading and ignoring my grammatical mistakes. If you had really said something I would have blocked you.
I am going to leave this up for a few weeks and then take it down and revise it into a draft fit for AGENTS. If you are an AGENT or a TASTEMAKER, please email me for a taste of draft two. I’ll give you a good deal. If you are my friend, get me in touch with a tastemaker. If you don’t, I’m blocking you. XOXO.
“Trying to explain Zen is like trying to catch wind in a box; the moment you the lid it ceases to be wind and in time becomes stagnant air.” - Alan Watts
I heard the airplanes flying low in an attempt to napalm every water-logged flower pot and puddle in the city with insecticide. . Pablo must have called in the National Guard after the riot at the vaccine center. I was under guard in my hotel until the “situation was under control.” While Bradley Fighting Vehicles patrolled the streets below, I watched the plane hit the Encore Beach Club over and over again on CNN.
My first thought: This would be a great exhibit for Pablo’s presidential museum.
The plane, heavy and cobbled together, jerked at strange intervals, clipping an oversized screen advertising a geriatric gyrating Madonna before dive-bombing the central pool of the Encore Beach Club, smashing a daybed rented by a bachelorette party. Debris hurtled into the VIP section and set it ablaze. Someone spliced the wreckage with footage of the vaccine riot: rich white people tackled by Secret Service and put into chokeholds. They continued to run side-by-side. Planes in buildings and cops doing chokeholds.
“The world is ending,” Chris Cuomo said from his bunker in the Catskills. Tears streaked his face.
I felt detached from my own brain. I called a friend in the Justice Department. They screened it. I opened my laptop and sent my “Lupe” file to an email@example.com. I opened a nip of vodka from the minibar and held it up to the television. “To you, Lupe,” I said, then downed the Fireball.
Nobody knew what happened in Nevada for a good week after the attack, though it was immediately dubbed “7/4” by cable news pundits. This new 9/11, Fox News said, was ushered in by the president’s insistence on cutting the military budget. “Our enemies believe us to be vulnerable,” Jake Tapper agreed on CNN. ISIS took credit almost immediately which Kamala Harris determined was a resurgence of extremist hate that would result in thermonuclear war with the nation of Iraq because “intelligence sources” said they had WMDs. This time it was for real, she assured us.
My tip went unreported. Lupe walked around the White House making statements. Pablo did damage control. The riot was more of a joke than anything else, with pharmaceutical executives quivering on Bloomberg, whimpering about how they were targeted by the new police state. Pablo got the vaccines to Chicago. The epidemic subsided. Lollapalooza occurred. Everybody rejoiced. He went to the Strip and laid his hands on the Wynn. He prayed. He looked good.
For my part, I watched all of this in a haze of vodka and cocaine, laying on my bed, scrolling through Grindr. I sent every guy, no matter how hideous, a “hey” and a picture of my penis, relishing my severance check. I was anonymous again. Twinks came, twinks went. They wore ripped jeans, Lady Gaga shirts, they talked too much, they showed me their singles.
“Shut up,” I told them when they told me about the new RuPaul episode on Paramount Plus. I didn’t let them do my cocaine. I jerked off a lot. This would be my life now, I thought.
Incidentally, a small press conference in Carson City set the record straight. Nevada state troopers connected the aircraft with the little insurrection going on in Pahrump.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “The plane came from the southwest where the insurrection is taking place. We flew a drone over their camp and found a makeshift airstrip.”
“What insurrection?” A Vox reporter asked.
“The group settled just west of here.” The room was silent. “The ones who declared themselves independent from the United States? Babylon the Great? They’re linked to over 45 open drug trafficking cases in Clark County alone?” Still nothing. “They’ve got a darn website.”
The sheriff navigated to a sleek “About page” that said “Babylon the Great is now independent from the United States of America and will soon release an interactive Constitution document via social media outlets.”
“I thought insurrections only took place when rednecks tried to kill politicians and took shits in their offices,” a young pimply intern from Buzzfeed said via video link.
“Not always,” the sheriff instructed as though to kindergarteners, “It’s a revolt against the government. Kind of like establishing your own constitution and military presence in the middle of a sovereign country. I’ve been asking the FBI intervention for months now. Nye County just doesn’t have the resources to deal with a full-blown insurrection.”
“Ah, so it’s defund the police that did this?” Another reporter said.
“Son,” the policeman shook his head, “I don’t think Nevada police would have the resources if we had 18 goddamned tanks.”
Lupe saw the writing on the wall. It was only a matter of time before the plane engine was connected to the Instagram influencer. She resigned. She sought asylum. Acting Prime Minister Mikhail Volkov said she should answer for her crimes and sent her right on back to federal agents waiting for her at Dulles. People turned to Pablo:
“What can I say,” Pablo said in a now-famous speech from the Oval Office, “I made mistakes.”
Months later, I sat in a large conference room with other witnesses set to speak before the 7/4 Commission.
“Can we go over it one more time?” I begged my attorney. She was absorbed in a game of Solitaire on her phone.
“What for?” She asked.
I lowered my voice. “I knew, or at least had some evidence, about what was going to happen and I didn’t report it to the proper authorities in time.”
“Your crazy file?” she asked.
“My crazy file,” I responded, a little hurt by the adjective.
“They definitely won’t ask you about any of that.” She did not look up from her game.
“But what if they do?” She sighed and put down the phone.
“What, if anything, did the President know that could have stopped this event?” She asked. A question she had asked me many times in our prep sessions.
“Nothing,” I said truthfully.
“Prep done,” she said, picking up her phone. She made a little sound when she won.
They asked one question.
“How did 7/4 impact your mental health as a POC and openly gay cis male?” Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked me.
“Uh, poorly,” I said.
“No further questions,” she said, nodding along sympathetically, her hand on her chest, tears welling in her eyes.
I tried to rub the headache out of my temples.
“Is there a smoking area?” I asked a Capitol policewoman marching down the corridor with an AK-47 and a bulletproof vest.
“The U.S. Capitol Complex is a smoke free area,” she said, putting her fat finger on the trigger. “Even vaping in-and-around the Capitol building is a federal offense under the Domestic Terrorism Eradication Act and is subject to two years in jail. You got that, buddy?” She said the final words up close, spitting on my Tom Ford suit.
“Okay, okay,” I said, raising my hands up and backing away. She rejoined her partner, who was chatting up a congressional aide.
“You want a sip of this Juul?” A girl in a stained blouse and a cheap Ann Taylor outlet store elastic blue pants on a bench sat on a bench next to a broken water fountain. She produced a Juul from her coat pocket. “They don’t really check. They’re too zonked out on uppers to do anything besides fondle their guns.”
“Thanks,” I said, sitting down next to her. I took a hit off the Juul and blew it furtively downwards, the vapor disappearing into my pit-stained dress shirt. I handed the Juul back to her. She looked familiar.
“Are you the cult girl?” I asked. She smiled.
“My Christian name is Sasha,” she said. I remember watching her on television. She was detained for a week for arduous questioning by the military before she was finally released without charges. She went viral on libertarian Twitter for saying “I know defunding the police seemed like a good idea but I would much rather be questioned by them rather than the motherfucking army.”
“Jay,” I shook her hand.
“The mentally unwell aide!” she exclaimed. “I testified right before you, I think,” she said.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Odd,” she said. “It didn’t really seem to be about me, or Pahrump, or the truth really. I kept thinking they would ask me what happened.”
“Same,” I said. “I think it’s so the Senators can cry on camera.” Pablo stacked the commission with 8 staunch supporters and one insane Republican who was universally lambasted for saying QAnon shit on CSPAN. The whole thing was theater. “Were you really in that cult?”
“I honestly think most people involved didn’t know they were in a cult. It’s a shame most of those people are in jail now. It really should just be the top main crazy people.”
“They don’t care.”
“I know,” she responded.
“You could write a book,” I mused, my Communicator brain churning. “You just have to play up that it’s a cult to get it published anywhere but if you do, you’d make a lot of money.”
“I don’t want to make a lot of money,” she said.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I’m going back to school to be an engineer. I figure I would try to fix my state. Nevada is in a constant state of degradation and disrepair,” she said. “But I love it anyway. Unfortunately.”
“That’s nice of you,” I said.
“What about you?” she said.
“Oh, I don’t love anything,” I said back.
“Well, do you like anything?”
I thought about this. “Boba tea,” I said.
“There you go,” she said. “Don’t waste time doing anything else.”
Three Years Later
When I was a boy, my first grade class made us write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. Both the idea of “when we grow up” and choosing a thing to be (Do? Be? I couldn’t tell if there was a difference) for the rest of my life was both daunting and perplexing. Why did I have to be just one thing? My classmates all put doctor or lawyer or astronaut, wedding planner or actress. I put tea shop owner.
On Friday night, Mom took me to get sushi that chugged around the room on a conveyor belt. Afterwards, we walked around the side of the strip mall to Jujitsu Tea and I always ordered an decaf Oreo milk tea with extra boba. I loved those pearls. It was like chewing tumors. I drew a picture of my tea shop for the assignment. Posters of Mario and Luke Skywalker on the wall, bean bags, and me and my mother holding hands. That was what I wanted to be, I thought, if I had to choose.
My father picked me up from school that day and laughed at my picture. I could do better, he said. I could be a doctor! A lawyer! A scholar! Someone like him, but better. Tea is frivolous, he said. Any random spic on the street could start a tea shop, he said.
Shortly after this conversation, my father left us to build a more affluent and white family in Phoenix. This particular conversation conversation stuck with me though. Even now at 40, I can remember the shame of my tea shop dream in vivid detail. Of course I was too smart to make tea. So, I dedicated my life to more “noble” pursuits, even though I didn’t particularly like any of them.
When I did become famous according to the Carlos Betata rubric of success, he wrote a long email telling me how proud he was, how he knew I would make something of myself. Then he asked me if I could get one of his daughters I had never met a job in the White House. Your sister, he reminded me.
I never responded.
I watched as the machine jerked off a large almond milk tea with Boba and 150% sweetness. The mechanical arm pounded the drink up and down for fifteen seconds and then sealed it with a piece of plastic with “Jay’s Tea Hut” and a painting of a caveman drinking Boba tea that I made while drunk on MS Paint. I handed the drink to an overweight teenager with faded blue pigtails. I went back to reading a novel about a gay spy in Napoleon’s court.
“Thanks Jay,” she said happily. I said nothing until she turned her back and then glanced at her table.
Somehow, my tea shop became a community center for nerds in various stages of puberty. Puffing on their inhaler while playing increasingly more elaborate board games. Dungeons and Dragons or games about the Oregon Trail that required them to pull up spreadsheets on their iPads or card games that, to my impression, were just horny mad libs. This place that I created to drink tea all day alone and read novels had somehow become a refuge for fat teenage misfits They all knew my name and tried to high-five me when they walked in. They requested a punch card system which I refused by telling them to fuck off, which I think just ingratiated them to me more. I shook my head at them as they laughed and killed a dragon or whatever, and turned back to my novel, where the spy was about to finally butt fuck an admiral and extort him for secrets.
I opened the shop, on a whim, in a drab strip mall sandwiched between a Hobby Lobby and a poke place. I thought, if I was going to do nothing for the rest of my life, and I zealously planned on just that, I wanted to do it with an unlimited supply of tea. The rent wasn’t much and neither was the overhead. With my savings, life insurance from my mother, and severance from the White House, I could keep this puppy operating at a loss for at least ten years, then I could find a temp job, or maybe the world would end and I could embark on a career as a grizzled zombie survivalist. Whatever came first.
One of the D&D kids was sucking on the dregs of his tea, trying to get at that one last Boba tea.
“Hey!” I yelled, in an attempt to fulfill my fantasy of shooing no-good kids out of my shop. “Are you gonna order something else? Because if not, get out,” I said.
“Of course, Jay! A Taro milk tea, please! Extra boba!” These fucking kids. It seemed like they were happy, or tranquil, or something. Jesus.
Keyana arrived with a big box of pamphlets.
“Where do you think I should set up shop? I was thinking underneath Leia’s gigantic tits?” I got some kid from the Arts Magnet to paint the inside of the tea shop, telling him to paint whatever he wanted with a few decency parameters. He painted a chaotic mural with Star Wars characters and Marvel characters in an anatomically explicit Richard Scarry format. Prisoner Princess Leia’s breasts were enormous, three times the size of her head. They even had veins running through them like the biceps of a roided-up Arnold Schwarzenegger. I thought it was the best part of the mural.
“Sure,” I said. She hung a sign underneath Leia’s nipples.
New Horizons Mental Health clinic. Why do they all have the same name? Green Acres. Healing Wave. As if nature would enter you in these places and drive the mold from your brain. She set out trays of macarons, gift certificates to the ramen joint across the street, handmade tapestries, and other knickknacks the limited community of Arlington, Texas had to offer.
The fundraiser was for Crisis Intervention Teams for the police to respond appropriately to mental health calls. Since they were defunded, Arlington police was broken up into several different, very broke, units. Keyana wanted to set up a mental health response team for domestic violence or other violent 911 calls that needed a social worker to respond, not a cop. I told her the attendees had to pay full price for tea.
Just because I was a nihilist didn’t mean I couldn’t participate in a barbecue.
A few hours later, I drank a Corona and chatted with the burger guy as he flipped patties on a grill set up in a handicapped spot. The Poke chick joined us. We talked business (bad) and sipped on beer (warm). Twenty children were going nuts in the bounce house. One stricken four year-old watched from the sidelines, wrestling with whether he wanted to join the mass of bodies jumping before finally coming up to me and asking if I would watch him jump.
“Where are your parents?” I asked, exasperated. The little boy shrugged and looked down, on the verge of tears.
“Fine! Fine! Don’t cry!” I said. He grinned and jumped in, trying to ingratiate himself with the cool ten year-olds having a jumping contest. I stood there, the burger flipping man scoffing at me and telling me I was a softie, until a parent, some parent, some adult that looked vaguely sober, could take my place. Right before, I pulled the plug on the whole thing, I heard an elderly Puerto Rican woman say:
“What in God’s name?” I turned around and saw four gleaming SUVs enter the strip mall.
These new, washed cars painted a significant contrast between the typical clientele of the strip mall. The cars here had duct tape pasted over busted passenger side windows. The cars here may be luxury German vehicles but they were all twenty years old, dented and broken, scratched and keyed, only accessible from a hole in the soft convertible top that would not go down. People tended to notice the clean and the new and the expensive.
This was why I always thought the Secret Service did a shit job.
The cars double-parked and Pablo’s children burst from the backseat of one of the cars with a panicked secret service agent (plain clothes but with a Bluetooth headset so we all knew what he was) scrambling behind them.
“Uncle Jay,” Mariana said, she was nine now, and jumped into my arms. I stumbled back as she wrapped her hands and legs around me.
“You’ve gotten heavy,” I said. I’ve gotten out of shape, I thought, and put her back down. Juan, five now, and probably didn’t remember me, shyly held his hand out regally. I shook it with a smile. Pablo’s wife, Lily, carried a newborn boy in her arms.
The pregnancy was announced with a full spread of Lily in Vogue, right around the midterms too, wearing something from Target I think. She looked beautiful and real holding her big stretch-marked belly. Good job, I remember thinking.
“Hi Jay,” Lily said, kissing my cheek and introducing me to baby Martin. I kissed her back, did the traditional coo-ing at, and looked her up and down.
“Mama got her rocking bod back fast. Do those White House cooks make you keto or just lipo?” I asked.
“Fuck off,” she said amiably.
“Mom! Mom! Can we go in the bounce castle?” Juan said, nearly salivating over the proceedings. I wondered when the last time he was able to go to a normal kid event.
“I want my face painted,” Mariana said, matter-of-factly. Lily looked around, scanning the perimeter, then a Secret Service guy whispered something in her ear.
“Okay, go on then,” and the children scattered.
“I hope it’s just you,” I said.
“For fuck’s sake,” she said. “You boys and your grudges.” She rocked the gurgling baby.
“So, he’s here. What, just sitting in the car, willing himself to get out and face me?”
“Maybe he has a call with the prime minister of India,” she said. I raised an eyebrow. “No, he’s being a coward.”
“He should be,” I grumbled.
“Go talk to him, you fucking idiot. I am sick of this. You two have been friends since we were children. One petty fight and--”
“He fired me even though I was right about Lupe.”
“Oh my God! You were right! You are so smart, Jay! Nobody is smarter than you! Can I please have your autograph! How may I prostrate myself before your feet?”
“Okay, okay, I get your point.”
“You can’t argue with a person holding a baby. What if I drop Martin out of mental distress and he’s never okay again! He starts killing animals as a teenager. Who knows what you may unleash out of your desire to prove your dick is, in fact, the biggest.”
“I see you haven’t changed since tenth grade,” I said. “Fine, okay. Use your baby as a prop, you bitch.”
She grinned, then kissed her baby on the top of the head, holding it close to her body. People were beginning to recognize her now, recognize the entire situation, looking from the cars, to Lily and back again. A few women tentatively approached her and shyly asked for selfies. Lily said yes, and deposited the baby into an elderly woman’s arm who rocked it back and forth (much to the trepidation of Lily’s bodyguard).
“Jay,” Keyana slid next to me. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew the First fucking Lady.”
“I don’t like to brag,” I said. I tapped Lily’s arm softly and made introductions. “Keyana works at a mental health center in the area. She could use some of that sweet, succulent First Lady funding.”
“Sure,” Lily said and turned to an animated Keyana.
Pablo was in the SUV with the most people pretending they weren’t carrying semi-automatic pistols surrounding it. As I approached, the men arranged themselves in a V between me and the car.
“Dennis, you know who I am,” I said to the corn-fed Aryan in a baseball hat, Under Armour, and slacks. “Is this what you think regular people dress like?” I asked.
“I’ll need you to undergo some security before you see him,” Dennis said, ignoring me. A younger agent wanded me, another rubbed my face and crotch with a cotton ball and analyzed it with an iPhone app, another aggressively searched me, discovering a small Swiss army knife on my key ring and shaking it at me.
“What is this?!” he cried. Several people peered over at him.
“You know, if people who want to kill the president are here and didn’t know the president was here, I think they know now.”
“Jay,” Dennis shook his head. “You can’t say stuff like that.”
“We should arrest him just for saying that,” another agent squealed. Dennis read a questionnaire from a clipboard. Address, social security number, known associates, movements over the last few days, could anybody verify that, group memberships, gym memberships, bars frequented.
A door of the SUV swung open. “Just let him in,” Pablo said from inside. Dennis shrugged and stepped aside.
“Wow, I can’t see why Kennedy was killed in this very town!”
“That wasn’t us,” the young agent protested. “That was-”
“Shut the fuck up, Jason,” another agent called out and then spat dip onto the asphalt of the parking lot.
“Don’t worry, dude,” I said. “I know who did it. You don’t need security clearance to know that.” I climbed into the air-conditioned car. The backseat was arranged with the seats facing each other. Pablo sat, staring straight ahead with his arms crossed. I sat across from him, my own arms crossed, and said nothing.
Finally: “How is the bubble tea industry?”
“Booming. I’m donating to several candidates. Not you, of course. Big Boba is going to take over the world.”
“You know you could have done anything. I let you resign. I heard a lot of people wanted to hire you. MSNBC. AOC. Sunrise Movement. Book deals. You could have brought me down.”
“I opened the shop.”
“Because I wanted to.”
“So, you want to be doing this?”
“It’s not a suicidal thought?”
“Less suicidal now than I have been in years.” This stung Pablo.
“I should have believed you,” he said.
“I was acting crazy”
“You were right.”
“I know,” Jay sighed. “My therapist said I should forgive you. That you’re under a lot of pressure and stress and it was nothing personal.”
“My wife says I should forgive you because I’m too lonely.”
“For not answering my calls, for abandoning me,” Pablo shifted in his seat. Squirmed. “I guess it maybe reminded me of my dad. She said.”
“My therapist also referenced the dad. Look at us,” I said, “Self-actualized, or fleeced for cash, I can’t tell.”
“I’m sorry,” Pablo searched for the right words. “I got too caught up in the bureaucracy of everything. I thought since Lupe had more experience in all this Washington DC bullshit, that she was in the right, when it turns out that because she had more experience in it, she was in the wrong.”
I said nothing for a long time. I felt the weight of our history between us. Dealing drugs in Kiest Park. Doing salvia and lying in a field of Bluebonnets. Pablo accidentally passing out drunk in Missy’s father’s bed and getting his ass kicked. The time I got blackout at 7 AM and puked on our history teacher’s shoes. The way we never judged. The way we carried on.
“I hope Lupe is in Guatmo,” I said.
“I gave that back to the Cubans.” Pablo laughed.
“Where do you torture people now?”
“That’s classified, civilian.” He winked.
“Do you want a Boba tea?” I asked.
“Can you pour some Everclear in?” he asked.
“Always under my register.” I reached for the door. He caught my hand and squeezed.
“You’re my best friend, asshole.” I squeezed back.
“Don’t be gay,” I said.
When we opened the door of the SUV, a roar sounded out over the strip mall.