The first time I met Charles Koch, I was drinking gin in a bar near Tijuana. It was a little town I forget the name of, and which no longer exists in any case. It was the day after Rolling Stone had published their scathing piece about the Koch family empire, and, being a kind of politics junkie, I would know that old white guy anywhere anyway. Seeing him there, drinking a frozen cocktail with half a tree’s worth of cherries on top, I laughed out loud. Of course, I knew it wasn’t the billionaire and de facto ruler of the free world, Charles mother fucking Koch, here in a bar, by himself no less. I knew it wasn’t, so I approached him.
“Sir, you look like a man who doesn’t suffer fools,” I said, “but appearances aren’t everything.”
He said, “If you’re thinking I look a lot like Charles Koch, well you can suck a dick, partner, because it’ll be the twelfth time someone has said it today and to be honest with you I can’t stand being gawked at.”
“I like the cut of your jib,” I said, and walked away. Back to the bar for more gin. No way in hell any of this was happening. I wondered how long had it been since Jethro had given us that rotten peyote. There’s no way twelve people would recognize Charles Koch on sight. It’s not as if he was an athlete.
When my next drink came, a heavy hand fell on the bar next to it. An old, gnarled hand. Looked like it had been grabbing shit it’s whole life. The hand of Charles Koch, I knew it. Son of a bitch, I thought, the hallucination wasn’t going to let up. I drained the gin and didn’t look over.
“Bring him another,” said Charles Koch’s voice. “Bring the whole bar another!”
A cheer went up and there was a lot of back slapping.
Charles Koch laughed at first, but then he yelled, “Get away from me you dogs! You communist zealots! Fools and beggars. Listen…”
He turned to me and I had to look over, as it seemed everyone else was willing to acknowledge him, I had to suppose he wasn’t an illusion at all.
My drink hit the bar and the man coughed.
And then he turned to the bartender again and asked for a bottle of the most expensive Scotch and a bucket of ice. Good tequila would be fine, too, if they had something rare they were saving for drug dealers or whoever ran this one mule town.
He started again, talking to me. “I like the cut of your jib. You know, my dad used to say that, but only very rarely, the officious son of a bitch.”
“Look,” I told him, “look I don’t want whatever you’re selling, Mr. Charles Koch look-alike whatever you are. I used to like the cut of your jib, but now you’re going around yelling and ordering weird drinks, and paying for me. To hell with that. I buy my own drinks, even if I ain’t a billionaire.”
The guy nodded as the bartender put a bucket of ice in front of him and a dusty bottle with no label. The bartender said something in Spanish and Charles Koch answered in Spanish.
The bartender left and Charles Koch poured the bottle into the ice. The bartender returned with a straw. Charles Koch unwrapped it and threw the wrapper on the floor. He started sucking down the liquor like he was in a contest.
I knew shit was about to get even worse, so I tried to make my exit. I thought that if I could escape the hallucination on its own terms, maybe I had a chance of waking up alive.
Charles Koch said, as I stood up and put money on the bar, “Look here, we’re a couple of Texas gentleman, you and I, is that right?”
“We’re a couple of Texans,” I answered, “but if you’re Charles Koch, than we ain’t neither one of us a gentleman. Goodnight.”
“You ever seen a bar blown to bits?” asked Charles Koch. “With dynamite, I mean.”
I had to pause now, because things were getting dangerous. I sat my ass back down and ordered another drink. Charles Koch was a devil of a hallucination to escape, I decided, and probably beyond my ken. Best to ride it out.
Charles Koch paid everyone to leave that bar, one at a time. He sent them out with drinks in their hands. He paid the bartender to stay there until everyone had left. Then he gave the bartender wads of cash, so that the bartender had a helluva time trying to hold onto it. The bartender finally left and then Charles Koch smiled at me and we walked out together.
Some men snuck in like storm troopers after us, and I don’t know what else, but in about five minutes, Charles Koch and I watched the bar blow sky high.
I’d never seen joy on an old man like that before. He was racked with laughter, full, deep and true. The bastard sounded as happy as Buddha or happier. And he wasn’t the least bit drunk.
He then said to me, “Come on, partner. I’ve got a helicopter waiting, and you don’t want to be on the ground for this one.”
He yelled in Spanish. I couldn’t describe to you the voice on this old man. Rent the air like the trumpet of Gabriel.
People started running madly.
I followed Koch through the crowd, and I’d be the first to admit to you that I have a tendency to exagerate, but with God as my witness this old man moved like a snake. I was getting run into left and right by out-of-their-mind Mexicans, but this hefty son of a bitch just slithered on through.
We got into a helicopter, like he said. I didn’t fight it. Leastways I couldn’t. Koch had pilfered half the bar’s liquor cabinet and was carrying bottles in his hand, one in between each set of fingers. And the same time he was palming one and guzzling and urging me to do the same.
Soon’s we get up high enough, whole damn village. Explodes. Hell of a thing. Koch made a motion like he was Wile E. Coyote pushing down the plunger on an ACME detonator. He clapped his hands and clapped me on the back and that’s the last thing I remember. Woke up the next day in Tijuana with my hands and feet tied together and an eighty-year-old woman poking me with a broom and laughing like bare feet on broken glass.
I was sure it was a complete and total hallucination, just sure as you are now.
Course it was in the news that the little town had blown up and no one had a good reason for it. No one around seemed to give a damn, and they sure weren’t talking to the press. I figured my subconscious had suppressed whatever I knew about it, and turned it into Charles Koch to make it easier for me to live with myself, and so I left it alone, despite my normal journalistic curiosity.
Two years later, that is to say, last November, I ran into Charles Koch in Washington, DC. He scared the piss out of me. Jumped up behind me and said, “Hey, Tex!” while I was studying Colony Collapse Disorder at the Library of Congress.
“Good Christ!” I yelled.
He laughed and moved on with his entourage.
I figured it was my mind again, and I extrapolated that I was bound to blow up the Library of Congress next, so I ran out of there. Then I seen on the Twitter that Koch was at the Library of Congress after all. That’s when my obsession with the man began.
It was just two days ago, in a barroom in Tanzania when I tracked down Koch again, the man, by himself, alone. I had discovered a pattern to him. He went off alone like this now and again, out of the way places. He didn’t always blow them up, mind you, but he went off about every nine months.
He was drinking beer, and looking mighty civilized, and it seemed no one had recognized him. It was early evening, about eight o’clock, and I guessed he hadn’t tied one on tight enough to get really wild.
I sat down next to him. “Evening, Tex,” I said to him.
He looked completely unperturbed. Natural as breastfeeding. Turned to me and said, “You been following me a while, Tex.”
I shrugged and ordered gin on ice. But they didn’t have ice. Machine was down.
“Charles Koch,” I said, “I just gotta know. What in hell were you doing in that bar outside of Tijuana?”
“Same as you,” he said.
“You’re a multi-billionaire,” I said. “You’re a workaholic. You’re an eighty-year-old man with a death wish big enough for the whole world. Nothing you do is the same as me.”
“Bullshit, Tex,” said Charles Koch. “We’re all humans. We all got twenty-four hours in a day. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.”
“Oh, cut the crap, you pyromaniac,” I said.
Charles Koch stood up. “Listen, Tex. This ain’t the place for a serious discussion.” He put a wad of cash on the bar and said something to the barman in some other incomprehensible language.
I stood up, too.
Charles Koch said, “And by that I mean, if we light up here, everyone’s going to want some.” He pulled from his jacket pocket a small case that looked like it was made from the skins of martian children. He pointed to the door with it.
Outside, he opened the case and gave me one of the two cigars. “I have a man in Cuba. A radical, you understand, working to upend the communists and so on. He has a guy roll these for me, been rolling cigars since before he was born. I mean it. The pro-choicers should’ve seen this guy in there. All industry. Just rolling cigars non-stop.”
I cut the end off with the forty pound cigar cutter that Charles Koch handed to me. “This here’s solid gold, you know.”
He cut his cigar and threw the thing over his shoulder. “Gift from the North Koreans. Soggy bastards.”
We lit up. “There’s weed in here,” I said, coughing.
“I got a guy in Northern California. Medical grade of course. He’s going to do for the cannabis industry what Chateau Montelena did for Napa Valley.”
“How do you get that to Cuba?”
“I’m glad you asked,” said Charles Koch, and he went on to tell me. For an hour and a half. Charles Koch loves to talk about business, shipping, import law, taxes, and a hundred other things I had never understood. He spoke of these things like El Shaddai might tell you about the Kaballah if He really wanted you to get it: all the secrets of the universe laid bare until, in a holy haze, you’d get it, only to forget the moment He stopped talking.
When he finally did stop talking we were on a huge boat made entirely of what seemed to be palm fronds, and we were crossing over to Zanzibar. Charles Koch said we’d better get over there and enjoy it while we could, but didn’t explain.
I asked Charles Koch if there were many other planets that he was planning on moving to after he had destroyed this ones ability to support life.
“God no,” said Charles Koch. “And if there were, I wouldn’t make the trip. I’m eighty years old, for Christ sake. This planet’s been going for thousands of years, it won’t stop in the next twenty.”
“What the hell’s the matter with you, Charles Koch?” I asked.
“What the hell could you mean, Tex?” asked Charles Koch.
“How can you do the things you’re doing?”
“How can you do the things you’re doing?”
“I need a drink.”
“I need a drink, too.”
“Would you cut it out, Charles Koch?”
Charles Koch said, “Tex, how boring is it, being you?”
“At least I can sleep at night knowing I never killed nobody and I never decimated and entire planet.”
“Is that why you don’t enjoy yourself? So you can sleep?” asked Charles Koch. He walked carefully to the boat’s prow, walking on his tiptoes like a jungle cat, and then back with a plastic bottle of clear liquid. He sat back down, took a swig, and passed it to me. “Tex, there’s this revolutionary development in pharmaceuticals. They call it Rozerem. I can send you some. I sleep three hours every night like a baby.”
“That’s not the point,” I said. I took a drink from the bottle and passed it back.
Charles Koch smiled and looked out over the water. The moon and stars were so faithfully reflected by the sea that the boat seemed to be floating between worlds.
“What is the point?” asked Charles Koch. “There is no point. Might as well have fun. Like Kurt Vonnegut said, we all just got here.”
I was wasted yet again and I knew that Charles Koch was wrong, but I didn’t know why any more. When we came ashore on Zanzibar, he jumped out like a little monkey and ran up and down the coast, throwing the villager’s fishing nets into the water and laughing like a child.
We’re switching it up this week here at the Crusade – we’re posting pieces based on a one-word prompt: “interview.” Check back every day to see where the next writer takes it.