Rhino the Destroyer
Prompted Flash Fiction (1970s vintage KISS lunch box, rhino, cruise ship)
Chris was sitting in the shade of an umbrella on the lido deck of the Norwegian Saphire, sketching the famous arch, the one everybody had to have a selfie with, when some kid he didn’t know walked up to him and said, “A rhino’s running loose in Cabo.”
The kid was a little older than Chris with curly black hair and the kind of olive-toned skin Chris had long envied. His own blonde hair and pasty skin kept him in the shade or slathered in zinc oxide. “There’s a rhino,” the kid said, “running loose in Cabo.”
Chris set his pad on his knee. “No way.”
“Look.” The kid held out his phone, tapped the screen.
“Holy shit,” Chris said, watching the video.
“Yeah. I wanted to stay, but Mom dragged me back onto the boat.” The kid’s tone implied his mom often ruined his day by dragging him away from rampaging megafauna.
Chris looked up, over the railing. The wakes behind the tenders going back and forth between the cruise ships and the dock were bigger now than they had been earlier.
The kid saw what Chris was looking at. “They’re trying to get all the tourists back on the boats.”
Chris flipped a page in his notebook. “Where’d the rhino come from?”
The kid shrugged. “Who knows. Escobar had his hippos, maybe some gringo rockstar sold a shitload of tequila and decided to import a rhino.”
“Could be,” Chris said. “Or maybe Mexico is trying to outdo Spain’s running of the bulls.”
The kid grinned. “Maybe, but my money’s still on gringo rockstars.”
“Hey,” Chris said. “Play it again?”
Chris watched the kid as much as the video. He was dressed casually, but somehow Chris could tell he was loaded. Not that Chris’s family was poor — nobody on the boat as a tourist was — but Chris was pretty sure the kid had what Chris’s dad called Fuck Off Money. “Freeze it there, would you?”
“Back a little.” The kid dragged his thumb. “Yeah. Perfect.” Chris flipped a page and started sketching — the rhino front and center in full-on trample mode, an explosion of made-in-China souvenirs, bleached-blonde soccer moms, and sunburned dad-bods behind it like so much flotsam and jetsam.
The kid stood, watching. After a couple minutes, he said, “You’re good.”
Chris replayed the compliment in his head. He didn’t hear anything off-key. “Thanks. I draw a lot.”
“I mean it. Like, really good.” Chris glanced up. The kid went on. “I see a lot of art. Famous stuff, because of what my parents do. Even though you’re just outlining, there’s energy there. Movement.
Chris kept his eyes on the page. “Thanks, really.”
“I mean it. I’d describe you as a millennial Egon Schiele.”
Chris lifted his pencil and looked up. “Egon Schiele?”
The kid’s voice went flat. Explanation mode. “Egon Schiele was — ”
“I know Schiele. The comparison is a little hard to believe.”
The kid looked right at Chris. “I’m not bullshitting you.”
Chris got his pencil moving again, kept it moving. “My dad’ll only help me out with school if I have a plan for a day job. So I’m gonna get a BFA in drawing and a job as a courtroom sketch artist. I’ll make art at night.” Chris reached down, opened his pencil box, dropped the black, rummaged until he found dark gray, then flipped the lid closed.
“Wait a minute,” the kid said, “is that real?”
“What? My pencil box?”
“Pencil box? That looks like a — ”
“Yeah, it’s real.” Chris shrugged. “I won it in a bet with my dad.”
“Can I see it?”
Chris picked up the box and passed it over. “It was damaged when Dad got it, so it’s not worth much. Hold it closed, the lid likes to come open.”
The kid held the box in both hands like it was a golden chalice and turned it so the sun setting over the Cabo arch shone on Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter in full make-up and costume. He traced the inch-high letters spelling KISS with an index finger and shook his head as he rubbed the dents and scratches with the ball of his thumbs. “I can’t believe you use this to hold pencils.”
“It’s the perfect size,” Chris said, shading the rhino.
“Yeah, whatever,” the kid said, “It’s a legit artifact.”
“Mostly, it’s a fuck-you to my dad.” Chris looked up from his drawing. “He says artists don’t make money, but KISS did. Warhol did.”
The kid set the box on the ground next to Chris’s chair. “KISS is still making money. They’re doing KISS Kruises.”
Chris frowned. “I saw some ads for that. Sounds kinda shitty, to be honest. I wonder if they’re doing that because they want to or because they have to. Snorted all the royalties or something.”
“Who knows.” The kid’s phone buzzed. He looked at it and then said, “Look, I gotta go. Dear Mother wants me to meet a potential client.” He pulled a slim wallet out of his pocket, removed a card, and handed it to Chris.
Chris’s fingers noticed the thickness of the paper, and when he read the kid’s name, his eyebrows went up a bit.
“Yeah,” the kid said, “we’ve got a famous name. But everything my folks handle is old — old masters, old school, old people. I’m looking for new stuff. Young artists.”
Chris turned the card over in his hands. “I’ll text you some pictures of my work to liven up your meeting a bit.”
“Do that,” the kid said. “If I’m right, you won’t ever have to draw cops and robbers for fifty grand a year.”
Prompted by Cousin Chris (1970s vintage KISS lunch box, rhino, cruise ship).
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